Book Reviews

Day Eleven: St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to Polycarp (full text)

Who: Ignatius converted at a young age and later became Bishop of Antioch. A friend of Polycarp and fellow disciple of John, there is a long standing tradition that Ignatius was the child that Jesus held in his arms and blessed in Mark 10:13-16

What: A letter addressed personally to Polycarp giving him advice and encouragement as a bishop, plus some instructions on marriage to the church, which are reminiscent of Paul’s epistles.

Why: Ignatius wrote a series of letters to the churches in Asia Minor whilst en route to Rome to face martyrdom by wild beasts in the Colosseum around 108 AD.

Advertisement

When: Around 107-108 AD

This is the final letter by Ignatius, and it ends with him writing personally to his fellow bishop Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) who was the leader of the church in which yesterday's reading was addressed to. Whereas the previous letters were all written to the church as a whole, with praise and exhortations of their bishops, this one is addressed directly to a bishop personally.

Ignatius aims to encourage Polycarp in this letter by acknowledging his strengths and steadfast faith, and also by reminding him off his duties and role as a bishop. There's a brief warning against “those who seem worthy of credit”, but actually “teach strange doctrines” which may fill Polycarp with some “apprehension”.

This warning would seem to be against Docetism again, as in all of Ignatius's previous letters, which leads him to write this short creed about Christ just to reiterate the Church’s stance on the matter, and although it’s only short, I do like it, especially the parallelism:

Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.

What follows this are a few instructions, or maybe advice, to Polycarp, which isn’t too unusual since Ignatius is the elder of the two bishops – probably well into his 70s by this point, Polycarp maybe in his 40s. We see the inverse of what the previous letters have encouraged the church body to do: “do nothing without the bishop”, where here we see that same advice given to Polycarp but from a leadership point of view. “Let nothing be done without thy consent” he is told, but also not do “anything without the approval of God”. The position of bishop was not one to be abused, those who held that office were to be subject to God and leading of the Spirit all the more.

Polycarp is encouraged to “flee evil arts”, or “wicked practices” as other translations have it, but to also make sure he preaches against such things in public. Within the rest of this chapter, there is a quick run down of instructions concerning marriage and how to pastor those who want to be married, or who already are. There are similar calls to marriage purity and relationships as Paul gives in Eph 5:25, which is probably what Ignatius is quoting when he writes that Polycarp should encourage the men to “love their wives, even as the Lord the Church”, but also to those who are unmarried and virgins, they should strive to remain “in a state of purity” – another echo of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Cor 7:8.

But there is a definite change of thinking between what Paul wrote and what Ignatius says to Polycarp in the remainder of this chapter. Where Paul says that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:9) with no other rules attached, Ignatius writes saying that those who wish to marry should plan to “form their union with the approval of the bishop” so that it may be a Godly coupling and not something formed “after their own lust”. For all of times that Ignatius quotes Paul in his letters, it seems strange now that there has been a subtle change with regards to marriage which departs slightly from Paul’s instruction. Maybe this is a rule formed from the inference in what Paul says in 1 Cor 7 about widows who want to marry again, but “only in the Lord”, ie. to other believers; or more explicitly, from 2 Cor 6:14 where he instructs that believers should not be “unequally yoked” (or “mismatched”) with unbelievers. But even when taking this into consideration, requiring permission from the bishop is a new one.

Advertisement

After this there is a shift of audience in the letter as it appears to go from talking personally to Polycarp, to speaking to the whole congregation. “Give ye heed to the bishop” chapter six begins, speaking of Polycarp in the third person, and not by name. What follows is a familiar call to live in unity with one another, but said in words which are reminiscent once again of Paul:

Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you.

I don’t know about you, but when reading this except I can almost feel the desire which Ignatius had towards his fellow churches and his passion to see everyone live out that goal to have “love for one another” which Jesus prayed for in Jn 13:35, so that “everyone will know that you are [Jesus’] disciples”.

The closing chapters display more of this unity of the churches being lived out as there are instructions to send various letters and messengers between the churches far and wide where Ignatius won’t be able to make it to, so that the message and teaching may be consistent.

Advertisement

This is the final letter of Ignatius due to him being martyred shortly after by wild animals in Rome. There is another letter called “The Martyrdom of Ignatius” which isn’t included in this Lent reading plan, but you can read it in full here at newadvent.org.

Scholarly opinion is somewhat divided on the authenticity of The Martyrdom epistle, with some accepting it as totally genuine, others partially and some rejecting it completely. You can read a brief overview on this subject here: biblestudytools.com/history/.

In brief though, if it is genuine, the letter is supposed to written by those who accompanied Ignatius on his travels through Asia Minor and who also witnessed his execution in Rome. After a lengthy trip, they eventually landed in Rome where Ignatius “was thus cast to the wild beasts”. The believers in the city “spent the whole night in tears” and prayer to the Lord, and it is recorded in the closing chapter of this letter that some “saw the blessed Ignatius” standing with them and embracing the group, and “others beheld him again praying” for them and lastly, some saw him sweating and “standing by the Lord” as though coming from “his great labour”. Whether you accept the genuineness of this last letter or not, I think it gives some nice closure to the life of Ignatius which we’ve briefly been following over the last few days.

Subscribe to Updates
Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 79 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Why Read The Early Church Fathers?

| 4 days ago | Early Church

Why read the Early Church Fathers? Maybe for some of you reading this, the question might better be phrased as: who are the Church Fathers? No doubt you will be familiar with some of their names: Augustine, Jerome, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr et al. You may have even read portions or quotes by some of these men. But that still doesn't really explain to you who they are and why you should care, much less actually read any of their works. My new book deals with a selection of some of the most influential Early Church Fathers, sometimes also referred to as the Apostolic Fathers (if they lived between AD 70-150), or collectively as the Ante Nicene Fathers for all of those in the period of time preceding the Council of Nicea (AD 325). It is these men who wrote doctrine and defences against heresy and helped to continue and shape the Church in its most formative years. Some of the earlier Christian leaders of the 2nd Century were discipled and taught by the Apostles themselves. Those include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Still others in mid-2nd century were then taught by those who knew the men who were taught by some of the Apostles. One of the more well-known Bishops who was second generation to the Apostles was Irenaeus (best known for his extensive apologetic works, Against Heresies). From chapter 21 onward in my book, I look at a few writers from beyond this period (around 356) up until AD 449 where we can observe some distinctive changes in thought and practice. These people who came before us, those great men of faith, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom to preserve the Church and Christ's mission, bridge the gap between the Bible and the present day. They fill the void we sometimes wonder about when we get to the end of reading Acts or the Epistles and think, “what happened next?” or “what happened to the Ephesian church after Paul left?”. So Why Read What They Wrote? The Bible didn't just drop out of the sky, all leather bound and ready to read for us to pick up today. There was a lengthy process of selecting and preserving the apostles teachings which spanned nearly four centuries, and it was due to the Fathers and their faithfulness to the Scriptures that this was possible. Not only that, but due to their close links to the Apostles — some who were even taught directly by an apostle — we now have valuable resources and insights into aspects, teaching and issues within the very early Church which we can learn from and measure our doctrine and interpretation against. This isn't to say that everything the Church Fathers said, did or wrote is perfect; or that we should elevate their texts to the level of Scripture, but we can glean much from those who knew and were discipled by the Apostles (or those who knew them second hand). We can read what certain portions of Scripture meant to them, or see how they interpreted things in the years following the Apostles, and can compare that to how we might read those same Scriptures today. This is a highly valuable resource for us to still have available; to be able to check our beliefs and doctrines against accepted, historical orthodoxy, which was quite literally shaped through blood, sweat and tears. It's a wonderful thing to be able to look back millennia and know that what we believe and follow as Christians has been faithfully passed on and preserved for all this time. Many doctrines we now take for granted were actually developed and defended during this time; carefully worded and formed to ensure that the truth of God doesn't get lost, diluted or warped for selfish gain. We owe much to these men of God and can still learn a great deal from them, as they still speak to us today as part of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Heb 12:1). This is an excerpt from the introduction to my new book. You can read more from the Early Church Fathers in my new book, 40 Days with the Fathe...

Evidence of the Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures

| 08th November 2017 | Trinity

Table of Contents Jewishness and the Trinity 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim Plural Verbs used with Elohim The Name Eloah Plural Pronouns Plural Descriptions of God The Shema II. God Is At Least Two Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities III. God Is Three How Many Persons Are There? The Three Personalities in the Same Passage Conclusion New Testament Light I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.   This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today. Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example). So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible. On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue. I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles. I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me. The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Jewishness and the Trinity In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote: Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.” Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking. He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn. 1. God Is A Plurality The Name Elohim It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus ...

Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

| 30th October 2017 | Halloween

It's that time of year when you begin to see various articles and debates online about Hallowe'en, and whether it's something that Christians should have any part in. To some people the answer is a straightforward “no”, while others say it falls into the realm of Christian freedom and personal discernment. But what about if you're unsure or somewhere in the middle of those two positions, how should you decide what is the right thing to do? We can all see that the modern celebration of Halloween is focused quite heavily on darkness and evil beings. Here in the UK it's not quite so prevalent; it seems more like an excuse for adults to dress up and have a party as much as the kids do (although with more alcohol involved). American society has really taken the holiday to its extremes with some of the decorations I've seen online and on TV and films, to the point that suicide and murder victims left in public view have been mistaken for scary props! Origins of the holiday Has Hallowe'en always been like this though? Let's take a look at its origins to see where this holiday comes from to help us decide whether we should partake or not. Did you know that Hallowe'en actually started out as a Christian holiday (Holy Day)? “Hallowe’en”, or more precisely, All Hallows Eve (from the Old English hallowed meaning “holy”), is an ancient holiday in the Christian calendar to mark the day before All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saints Day is a day to celebrate and remember the martyrs and all those who have died and gave their lives for the Faith. Originally, this yearly festival began in the 7th century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon, a Roman temple to the gods. This then became a church called St. Mary of the Martyrs, and the date of the consecration, May 13th, was to be celebrated annually thereafter as the Feast of the Holy Martyrs. This was then later changed to November 1st by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD to commemorate the dedication of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to all of the saints. The feast day was then extended and made universal to include all the saints who had died, not just martyrs, since there had become too many to individually commemorate. And thus, All Saints Day was born. This isn't even the earliest time that martyrs were remembered as a formal event, as the practice goes way back to at least 135 AD which we can read about in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. In it the believers are said to treat the bones of Polycarp as “more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold”. The next reference comes around 250 AD. In Epistle 36 of Cyprian, he states that the Church should take note of the days in which the martyrs are killed: Finally, also, take note of their days on which they depart, that we may celebrate their commemoration among the memorials of the martyrs … there are celebrated here by us oblations and sacrifices for their commemorations There's also other early references to this practice in sermons by Ephrem the Syrian (373 AD) and John Chrysostom (407 AD), so we can see from the existing historical documents that celebrating the lives of martyrs and “saints” has been long observed within the Church, with the first record being in what is now modern-day Turkey. Aren’t there pagan roots? There is often a lot of references to Hallowe'en being an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in, a Gaelic word meaning “end of the summer”), originating in Ireland over 2000 years ago. The story goes that this was always the time when the Celts celebrated their dead, and as Christianity spread, the Pope “replaced” the pagan festival with a “Christianised” version to try and convert people easier. But there are a few issues with this version of events, and the historical timeline that it’s meant to follow. For starters, if it truly were an ancient Celtic festival, then the historical documents we have from the early Church shoul...

American Gun Violence and the Early Church on War and Violence

| 03rd October 2017 | Early Church

In light of the sad, recent events in the Las Vegas shooting — and similar events in America— I often see Christians across social media jumping to the defence of gun ownership whenever there is even a slight hint at gun control in America. But how has gun culture become so ingrained in American Christianity when we can observe a clear theme and pattern of thought in the first few centuries of the Church, which goes completely against this? Update 7th Nov 2017: It's so sad to have to update this post on the same subject so soon, almost a month to the day. Yet another shooting, this time in Texas where 26 people have been shot dead in a church of all places. But despite this, America tightens its grip on their guns, and Trump says tighter gun laws would have made no difference to the situation. Days earlier though, when a terrorist killed 8 people in NYC by running them down with a truck, President Trump was quick to tweet about implementing "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Yet again, voices are loud for everything else except curbing gun ownership, and the silence from the Church in America is still deafening. You can read more in the link below, but here's a few examples from the early Church with regards to war and violence, and using or owning weapons: “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” — Marcellus ~298 AD “Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” — Tertullian 155-230 AD “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”  — Cyprian ~250 AD “The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the pine Providence.”  — Ambrose 338-397 AD I don't have an answer to this cultural problem, and I'm not sure we can ever fully solve the issues of gun violence in the States now; but one thing that I do know is this: the Church in America needs to repent of its idolatry of guns, turn back to God and focus on the love of Christ again, and not on the weapons of destruction. Even if the rest of society clings to their guns, the Church should be the ones clinging to the Prince of Peace instead, and rejecting anything that could cause another harm. You can't love your neighbour or your enemies if you are willing to kill them (Matthew 22:36-40; Matthew 5:44-45). Matthew 26:52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. There is no room in the teaching or examples of Jesus, nor in the New Testament epistles, to give those who claim the name of Christ, permission to kill another human being! And before you head to the comments to write it, no, Jesus didn't command that we own weapons — Luke 22:36 is taken entirely out of context if you believe that, along with Exodus 22:2 if your thoughts were taking you there next. As John Piper puts it, "Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.". Which is as Paul also taught in Romans: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" and to "never avenge yourselves" (Rom 12:17, 19) because that is the role of the Lord, not us. Clearly this teaching of non-violence was something that was understood pretty well by the Early Church, as the quotes above point out. We have documented teaching from the first two centuries by those who were taught by the Apostles and who followed in their (and Jesus') instructions, rejecting any and all forms of violence and weapon bearing.  So where did it all go wrong and change?   See more early Church quotes on war and violence here: rogueminister.wordpress.com/.../quotes-the-early-church-on-war-and-violence/ Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.   Further Reading: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/02/las-vegas-shooting-wh...