by Fr. William Most
A caller on CRNET raised objections to the authenticity of the
Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Here are his arguments and
replies to them.
1. "Ignatius has always been a 'problem child' in patristic
investigation....there has been a long time consensus that the
'middle' version is authentic. This point of view has been
challenged by Robert Joly, Rius-Camps and others in more
COMMENT: Not really always, as the same objector
admitted in his earlier message,in which he said that the old
denials of Ignatius were resurrected about 1979,though the old
objections that there could have been no monarchical bishop
with priests and deacons that early. That was an old
protestant objection. Even Harnack dropped it some time back
2. "Robert Joly's arguments are: (1) it is highly improbable
that this set of letters would have been written during a
travel as a prisoner at occasional halts under way: the
quotations from apocrypha (especially fourth Maccabees) and
other works make it plausible that this is 'cabinet theology',
i.e., written with a rather good library at hand."
COMMENTS: Even today with our lesser memories we can
quote from other works, especially from Scripture. And as was
said, memories then were far better than ours. We think of the
case of King Tudya of Assyria, first on the Assyrian King
list. For long it was thought he was legendary. But now with
the finds at Ebla, we know that King Ebrum of Ebla made a
treaty with Tudya c 2350 BC, whereas the king list of Assyria
dates from about 1000 B.C. So for about 1300 years that data
was transmitted orally: Cf. G. Pettinato, ,
Doubleday, 1981, pp. 103-05.
We think too of the fact that the large works of Homer
circulated for many years in merely oral form. And the
earliest form of the Targums was also oral.
Further some of the specific items adduced, as given
below, are fanciful.
3. "(2)circus executions of Christians are known only since
the second half of the second century (the first datable
instances are Polycarp and the martyrs of Lyons and Vienna
[in Eusebius]. The persecution of Nero is no circus event: it
took place in Nero's gardens."
COMMENTS: Tacitus, respected by modern historians, in His
Annals 15.44 wrote that after the great fire, Nero needed
scapegoats, and the regular amphitheater had been destroyed,.
But he used his own gardens which were very large: "First,
Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then on their
information, large numbers of others were condemned...Their
deaths were made farcical..Dressed in wild animals' skins,
they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into
torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight.
Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle and exhibited
displays in the Circus at which he mingled with the crowd,or
stood in a chariot dressed as a charioteer. Despite their
guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved,
the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being
sacrificed to one man's brutality rather than the national
4. " (3) the complete 'tripartite hierarchy of one bishop, a
college of priests at a lower level, and deacons in the third
place is out of place in the chronological setting of 115 AD
or around. Didache, 1 Clement, Hermas know only a collegial
'hierarchy' either called 'presbyteroi' or 'episkopoi kai
COMMENTS: Objector shows confusion here. The fact that two or
three levels of officials is mentioned does not mean that they
acted collegially--the Bishop was at the head as Ignatius
says,and as later usage shows.
The terms Bishop, and priest were fluid for some time,
as we see in 1 Clement and even earlier in Acts 20.17-29. This
is not strange, in any field of knowledge it takes quite a
while for terms to become precise. Thus sacramentum took until
the 12th century to reach its present precise meaning.
Besides, this is just the old worn out objection, which was
rejected long ago even by Harnack as I mentioned above.
5. "Rius-Camps. The four authentic letters of Ignatius the
Bishop. Rome 1977, a book with which I do not agree at all,
makes one good point. In the Ignatius letters, there are
numerous admonitions to the faithful to 'venerate the Bishop
as God the Father, the Presbyters as the apostles, and the
deacon as Christ...;' or words to that effect. To those
sentences there is almost a literary match in the Syriac
Didascalia Apostolorum Orientalium of Louvain), where it is
said also that 'the deaconess should be venerated as the Holy
Spirit.' The Didascalia is dated in the beginning of the third
century, but probably contains older elements. Anyhow, it is
not very probable that the mention of the deaconesses, and the
parallel with the Holy Spirit is added. Rather it is to be
assumed that it has been deleted by "Ignatius." Ignatius does
not know about deaconesses, and the idea that the Holy Spirit
is feminine is found especially in the Syriac church, as well
in orthodox Fathers [Aphrahat and I think also Efrem, but I am
not sure]. This goes back to the fact that in Hebrew and
Syriac, the word Ruach or Rucha is feminine. In the
Valentianian gnostic system, there is a divine couple Christo-
Pneuma where Pneuma is definitely feminine, and the Gospel of
Philip (also Gnostic; see the Nag Hammadi writings) make a
joke of the Church belief that Christ was 'conceived by the
Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.' It says: 'Whoever has
heard of someone who is born out of two women?' or words to
COMMENTS: Pardon me for saying it, but the words about the
feminines are shocking. They were only grammatically feminine,
which has nothing at all to do with real sex. This is
precisely the nonsense feminists are now using when they even
worship Sophia as a goddess.--As for other features in the
Didascalia, if a later work shows some similarity in wording,
that would not have to mean Ignatius, much earlier, used it.
It could be the other way around.
6. "My good friend Reinhard Huebner, professor of patristics
in Munich made it plausible that there is a connection between
the famous christological statement of Ignatius 'born and
unborn, .....etc.' and what is found in the Contra Noetum of
Hippolytus and that 'Ignatius' depends on Noetus. Noetus of
Smyrna (see below) is end of second century.
COMMENT: again, a statement later by Noetus, a later heretic,
would not have to be the source for Ignatius who is earlier,
and even large and close similarity does not to prove literary
dependence. Please recall this in connection with the claim
made above that Ignatius would have needed a large library.
7. "My humble self found a stipulation in Roman law (cannot
check it now; the library of our law faculty is closed) which
makes the scenario of Ignatius improbable. According to said
scenario, Ignatius is condemned as a Christian in Antioch, but
should be executed in Rome in the circus (eaten by animals).
He is escorted all the way by a bunch of solders, whom he
calls 'the leopards.' This of course is a very expensive
enterprise: travel, halts, lodging, feeding etc. all the way
long from Antioch to Rome. Roman law stipulates that this
should be done only in very exceptional cases, and when it is
guaranteed that the condemned would give a 'show worth looking
at' in the capital of the empire. This would mean concretely
that 'Ignatius" would have been a young man with an
outstanding bodily stature, someone like-Jean-Claude You-
Guess-Who or Arnold Schwarzenegger."
COMMENT: That law is found in the later Digest 48.18,and
even so it leaves things up to the
Emperor, of course. There was a very special reason for
sending Ignatius: in 115 AD there was a great earthquake in
Antioch in which Emperor Trajan was injured, and the people of
the city blamed the Christians for the earthquake. This sort
of thing, blaming Christians for natural disasters, happened
much, e.g, in the time of St. Cyprian, and in the numerous
items reported by Augustine in his Cf. Glanville
Downey, , Princeton, 1961,
pp.292-93, and F.A. Lepper, Oxford,
1948, pp. 54-83.