Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.




ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philedelphians

July 4, 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.

This letter is concerned primarily with the unity of believers in the church at Philadelphia.  This is a theme that Ignatius will touch on in several of his letters, and is forefront in this one.  Ignatius speaks highly of the bishop at Philadelphia and exhorts the parishioners there to unity under his leadership.  He strongly encourages them to avoid those who are schismatic or  separatist in nature, admonishing them to stay true to the Holy Eucharist together rather than separating into warring factions.  He argues that this is only natural to Christians.  “For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one  cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery an deacons, my fellow-servants; that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

He also asks for their prayers as he journeys towards his death, and warns them against falling back into the practices of Judaism.  Like St. Paul, Ignatius is battling against the very strong pressure on early Christians – many of whom were Jewish – to maintain the Jewish customs they used to.  Ignatius sees this as an effort by Satan to confuse and ultimately separate God’s people from his love for them in Jesus Christ.  This issue was strong enough that some people were being led to reject Jesus unless he could be proven to them as the Messiah on the basis of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture).  Ignatius is careful to uphold the value and worthiness of the Old Testament while arguing for the important nature of the New Testament in terms of Christ.



ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans

July 3, 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.

Ignatius’ primary concern in this letter – as with many of his letters – is to pray for strength to face his impending martyrdom, and to ask that the Christians in Rome not attempt to interfere or otherwise attempt to petition or prevent his martrydom.  If necessary, he is resolved even to prompt the wild beasts to attack him if they will not of their own volition!  Any effort to prevent such an end Ignatius treats as a form of hatred.   Speaking of his impending suffering and death, he writes “If I shall suffer, ye have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, ye have hated me.”




ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

June 20, 2018

In this brief missive, Ignatius once again exhorts his recipients to unity and obedience to their bishop as well as the deacons who work among them.

More interesting is that Ignatius treats on the matter of the Docetae, a term for people who denied that Jesus was truly human.  They accepted his divinity, but under the influence of Greek philosophy, which held that matter was evil or at least impure, they insisted that Jesus just appeared to be human but was really only spiritual.   This is one of the earliest documents then which deals with this matter, a point of view that was condemned at the Council of Nicaea.  Ignatius doesn’t deal with Docetism by name  but it’s clear in Chapter X – The Reality of Christ’s Passion that this is what he’s getting at.


ANF – Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians

June 19, 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.

This letter is shorter than his letter to the Ephesians.  Ignatius compliments the Magnesians on their unity and the quality of their young bishop.  He encourages them to continued harmony and obedience to their bishop even though he is young, and castigates those who have taken it upon themselves to act separately or contrary to him.  He also warns against the temptation of being convinced or coerced to take on Jewish forms and practices.  This was an early tension in the Christian church, when many Christians were Jews.  There was much pressure, despite the decisions of Acts 15, to have Christian Jews still follow traditional Jewish rites and practices, and the early Church as well as the Apostles warned against this as a source of confusion in terms of where our salvation comes from.


ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

June 18, 2018

This continues my sporadic yet methodical plowing through of the Ante-Nicene Fathers – the writings of the churchmen beyond the Apostles but before the Council of Nicaea that have been preserved through history.  You can search on this site for ANF to look at previous entries.  As you’ll see, while I may be methodical, I certainly have been sporadic!

Next up are a series of letters preserved from Ignatius of Antioch – also known as Theophorous, to various churches.  We don’t have much information on Ignatius beyond the account of his martyrdom.  There is a tradition that Ignatius is the young child that Jesus uses as an object lesson in Matthew 18:2, but this is a tradition without any firmer footing.  He lived from AD 30-107.  While on his way to Rome for martyrdom, he wrote a series of letters to various churches and some of these letters have been transcribed and survived in history.  Some of those transcriptions are believed by scholars to be later innovations and not to be credited to Ignatius, but several other letters attributed to him are believed to be more or less authentic.

The only problem is that there exist two forms of his letters – a shorter and a longer form.  Traditionally, the shorter form has been treated as more authentic than the longer version.  I tend to agree with this simply on a basic reading level – the longer versions are heavier with Scriptural referents and other more heavy-handed aspects to them than the shorter form.  While some feel that even the shorter form may have been tampered with at some point historically, we can’t seem to prove this one way or the other.

In this first letter, Ignatius stresses repeatedly the importance of unity in the community of faith, anchored in obedience to their bishop.  He goes so far as to assert  He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself.   In our day when church attendance is viewed oftentimes as a light and optional thing, what a refreshing reminder of how dearly our predecessors in the faith valued their time together!  Take heed,then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise.  For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

I also appreciated Ignatius’ reminder to Christians not to remove themselves from the general society and culture even though their beliefs had to limit their involvement at times.  Such interactions were seen as another means of testifying to the faith.  See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.  This is not the same as the misquote widely attributed to Francis of Assisi – preach the Gospel always and sometimes use words.   Rather, I think Ignatius is getting at the reality that people watch other people, and as they watch Christians they will notice that we live differently and this may lead to questions and conversations where the Gospel can be shared.  This requires care, Ignatius understands.  While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness.  Separating ourselves from those who do not share our faith is not a healthy option, either for Christians of for our neighbors whom we are to be concerned for.

There is also an admonition against what I interpret to be a bumper-sticker religion – a shallowness of faith demonstrated by a quick tongue and actions that don’t back it up.  It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be one.  There are also copious and repeated warnings against false teachers and false doctrine.  We have to understand that not everyone who uses Jesus’ name is doing so for purely altruistic and Biblically consistent reasons.


Just Another Archaeological Discovery Conflicting with Scripture. Not.

April 5, 2018

Once again, very real possible proof of a Biblical figure living in the place and the time that the Bible describes him living.  Amazing.  Well, not really amazing, if you assume that the Bible might actually be reliable about these sorts of things.  Which might lead one to wonder whether the Bible might not also be true about some of the other amazing things it says.