Ignatius of Antioch

Status
Not open for further replies.

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
I've lately been reading, and re-reading, the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch. If anyone hasn't read them, I find them to be very spiritually edifying. I also find them to be challenging for the following reasons:

1. I find it very hard to believe that his view of church government is anything other than hierarchical, with a singular bishop (of a region? city? hard to say that early on) governing over a body of presbyters (plural) with the deacons in submission to both--and with the congregation in harmony with all. At first I thought his may be one opinion among many, but he ties the roles among bishops and presbyters to the nature of submission within the Godhead--meaning he evidently sees the authority of the bishop as rooted in the role of God the Father. Also, he isn't writing to suggest a form of government to the churches, but rather to encourage them to continue in the form of government that has obviously already been established.

2. I find it very hard to believe that his view of the "real presence" in the Eucharist is anything other than literal and not figurative. I suppose various later views could be read in, but my impression is that it would most likely be along the lines of the Lutheran or Eastern view--a real, objective, spiritual and physical presence that is simply accepted and not explained.

Roman Catholic apologists have a field day with Ignatius, and of course they see (1) Papal authority and (2) transubstantiation in his letters. Protestant apologists do a good job of refuting those points--but that's not the same as refuting (conciliar) episcopal government and some form of real, physical presence.

The reason I fixate on these two points are that they are so often brought up in his writings, and because he seems to identify these as part and parcel of simply being Christian. Where Christ is, there is the church--and Christ is found where the real Eucharist is celebrated by people who are in submission to their rightful bishop.

If all that is correct, and this "developed" so quickly in the early church, doesn't it make a pretty strong case that episcopal government and real (not just spiritual) presence were part of the church from the beginning? Of course all belief must be consistent with Scripture--but this would seem to give a lens into the how those Scriptures were interpreted within 30-60 years of the completion of the NT itself. And probably earlier since the communities receiving his letters (like the Ephesians) were recipients of the apostles' preaching and writing.

Thoughts?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Bill,
First, I would think that the best person to talk to about some of the issues that stir your thoughts would be your pastor. One-to-one conversation can be much more spiritually strengthening than distant chat. I hope you've considered this.

Second, while historical reading is a "must" for any serious Christian, it is not an easy thing to get inside the head or the language of the ancients. We have a tendency to "read into" their expressions our understandings, which have been filtered through a minimum of two major world-wide and epochal mind-shifts--Ancient to Medieval, and Medieval to Modern.

What this means at a minimum is: no one on any "side" in modern (or reformation) debates can simply appropriate the Fathers without great patience. The Fathers disagree with one another all over the place. Ignatius is a witness--one witness--from the past. He is valuable, but he is not all we have to listen to. What did Ignatius understand by a "real" presence in the Supper? What did "communion with the bishop" mean in those strange circumstances.

I would certainly hope that our resident "expert" DTK will address some of your main questions. But do take consolation that you are not the first to wonder about these things.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The Ignatian corpus contains interpolation. Even accepting the text in its present condition, there is no reason why the Ignatian bishop cannot be viewed as acting in the capacity of an ordinary minister; that is, the episcopacy is purely congregational, which is akin to the way the bishop functions in high Presbyterianism. Viewing the subject this way has the advantage of reconciling the Ignatian presentation with other sub-apostolic authors.
 

P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not DTK (and I too hope he'll respond) but let me add my two cents:

You ( wturri78) wrote: "I've lately been reading, and re-reading, the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch. If anyone hasn't read them, I find them to be very spiritually edifying."

I've spent countless hours enjoying (and being edified by) the church fathers, but I've found more edification among the Reformers and Puritans, who stood on their shoulders.

"1. I find it very hard to believe that his view of church government is anything other than hierarchical, with a singular bishop (of a region? city? hard to say that early on) governing over a body of presbyters (plural) with the deacons in submission to both--and with the congregation in harmony with all. At first I thought his may be one opinion among many, but he ties the roles among bishops and presbyters to the nature of submission within the Godhead--meaning he evidently sees the authority of the bishop as rooted in the role of God the Father. Also, he isn't writing to suggest a form of government to the churches, but rather to encourage them to continue in the form of government that has obviously already been established."

I'm not sure why anyone would view Ignatius' ecclesiology as any different from the Minister (Teaching Elder), Ruling Elder, Deacons organization we see in so many Reformed churches today. It is interesting to note that in his epistle to the Romans, he does not point to any "single bishop" as he does with the smaller cities.

"2. I find it very hard to believe that his view of the "real presence" in the Eucharist is anything other than literal and not figurative. I suppose various later views could be read in, but my impression is that it would most likely be along the lines of the Lutheran or Eastern view--a real, objective, spiritual and physical presence that is simply accepted and not explained."

It's puzzling to me why one would not think that Ignatius wasn't just continuing to use the Biblical metaphor. A literal explanation is obviously wrong. No one (even the papists) thinks that the bread is literally the body and the cup (or even its contents) is literally the blood.

"Roman Catholic apologists have a field day with Ignatius, and of course they see (1) Papal authority and (2) transubstantiation in his letters. Protestant apologists do a good job of refuting those points--but that's not the same as refuting (conciliar) episcopal government and some form of real, physical presence."

Christ's presence in the sacrament (not so much in the elements per se) is real but spiritual. Episcopal government developed, and we acknowledge that the development is a very old one.

"The reason I fixate on these two points are that they are so often brought up in his writings, and because he seems to identify these as part and parcel of simply being Christian."

It's important to let Christianity be defined by the rule of faith, the Word of God.

"Where Christ is, there is the church--and Christ is found where the real Eucharist is celebrated by people who are in submission to their rightful bishop."

I don't get that same vibe from Ignatius. Recall that in chapter 9 of his epistle to the Romans he writes: "Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]." It sounds like while having a minister is normal, a church can get by (at least for a time) without any pastor (pastor means shepherd) but Jesus.

I also don't get a "real Eucharist" as opposed to a "fake Eucharist" concept in Ignatius, but perhaps you'd like to point out what gave you that impression.

"If all that is correct, and this "developed" so quickly in the early church, doesn't it make a pretty strong case that episcopal government and real (not just spiritual) presence were part of the church from the beginning?"

No. Even in the first century, we have Diotrephes:

3 John 9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.

"Of course all belief must be consistent with Scripture--but this would seem to give a lens into the how those Scriptures were interpreted within 30-60 years of the completion of the NT itself."

They provide an early interpretation. But as John 6 informs us, there have been people misunderstanding Jesus (and particularly his metaphors) since the first half of the first century (probably 100 years before Ignatius).

Also, keep in mind that the Christians surrounding Ignatius did not (as we see from his letters) generally share his view of martyrdom (as one example of a point where his doctrine seems off). While his take on things is interesting, one would be mistaken to put a lot of weight in it.

Additionally, as someone has noted above, the letters of Ignatius are notoriously corrupt in terms of their textual transmission. It is hard to know whether even the shorter recension of his letters is an authentic representation of what he originally wrote.

"And probably earlier since the communities receiving his letters (like the Ephesians) were recipients of the apostles' preaching and writing."

I certainly wouldn't think it wise to attribute the views of Ignatius to the cities to whom he is writing. The same as now, sometimes people write to persuade and one certainly sees persuasive elements in (for example) Ignatius' epistle to the Ephesians.
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
1. I find it very hard to believe that his view of church government is anything other than hierarchical, with a singular bishop (of a region? city? hard to say that early on) governing over a body of presbyters (plural) with the deacons in submission to both--and with the congregation in harmony with all. At first I thought his may be one opinion among many, but he ties the roles among bishops and presbyters to the nature of submission within the Godhead--meaning he evidently sees the authority of the bishop as rooted in the role of God the Father. Also, he isn't writing to suggest a form of government to the churches, but rather to encourage them to continue in the form of government that has obviously already been established.

2. I find it very hard to believe that his view of the "real presence" in the Eucharist is anything other than literal and not figurative. I suppose various later views could be read in, but my impression is that it would most likely be along the lines of the Lutheran or Eastern view--a real, objective, spiritual and physical presence that is simply accepted and not explained.

Roman Catholic apologists have a field day with Ignatius, and of course they see (1) Papal authority and (2) transubstantiation in his letters. Protestant apologists do a good job of refuting those points--but that's not the same as refuting (conciliar) episcopal government and some form of real, physical presence.

If all that is correct, and this "developed" so quickly in the early church, doesn't it make a pretty strong case that episcopal government and real (not just spiritual) presence were part of the church from the beginning?
Notwithstanding Bruce's personal expression of kindness, I am only a student of early church history and literature. Personally (not publicly) I swore off posting on this board some 2 1/2 months ago, but made an exception (and now another) and responded to a question Chris Coldwell posted the other day. I am not sure of the profitability of making another exception. There are substantial responses to Romanist claims for the ecclesiology and sacramental views as exhibited in the literature of Ignatius of Antioch.

But what I find frustrating is how quick Protestants seem to accede to the claims of Romanists. Rev. Winzer made a couple of good observations regarding the ecclesiology and the recensions in the literature of Ignatius of Antioch.

But, before I am personally persuaded to respond more substantively, I would like to know 1) what is it (and this is surely one of the presuppositions embedded in one of the questions above) that makes a physical reality more substantive (or substantial) than a spiritual reality? and 2) How does an episcopacy equal a papacy? Simply put, I do not understand why Protestants seem so ready to accede to the claims of Romanists when they offer such proof texts from the ECFs.

Now, if I am coming across as being uncharitable with these questions, I will most gladly return to the hole out of which I crawled to post this.

Blessings,
DTK
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Notwithstanding Bruce's personal expression of kindness, I am only a student of early church history and literature. Personally (not publicly) I swore off posting on this board some 2 1/2 months ago, but made an exception (and now another) and responded to a question Chris Coldwell posted the other day. I am not sure of the profitability of making another exception. There are substantial responses to Romanist claims for the ecclesiology and sacramental views as exhibited in the literature of Ignatius of Antioch.

But what I find frustrating is how quick Protestants seem to accede to the claims of Romanists. Rev. Winzer made a couple of good observations regarding the ecclesiology and the recensions in the literature of Ignatius of Antioch.

As do I. Note that I said in my OP that Catholic apologists have a field day with Ignatius and generally do at least two things: 1. equate his discussion of the Eucharist with transubstantiation and 2. jump straight from episcopacy to Papacy. I don't believe either, nor do I accept their reasons for doing so. As many including James White have pointed out, they like to turn Ignatius' attack against the Docetists into an attack against anyone who denies transubstantiation, when clearly their reason for denying any real presence of Christ's body was their denial that he ever had a body to begin with. Is a "spiritual real presence" view consistent with Ignatius? I don't know, I suppose it could be. But a coproreal presence certainly is not inconsistent with his language.

We obviously cannot draw firm conclusions about deep theology from his writings on their own.

What suprises me is how many Protestants jump immediately to assuming that simply because I'm asking these questions, I'm therefore heading down the path of "Romanism." I can't seem to raise a question about episcopacy without somebody jumping immediately to proving that the Pope in Rome developed gradually...or to discuss "real presence" issues without someone immediately jumping to a refutation of a medeival doctrine of transubstantiation. There are Protestant communions that hold to both corporeal presence and episcopal government who certainly aren't "Romanists." And there is an entire Eastern branch of Christianity that was refuting Pope, Transubstantiation and Purgatory long before Protestants came onto the scene.

But, before I am personally persuaded to respond more substantively, I would like to know 1) what is it (and this is surely one of the presuppositions embedded in one of the questions above) that makes a physical reality more substantive (or substantial) than a spiritual reality?

Where is the presupposition embedded in the questions above? I'm only presupposing that it may be possible that he understood it in a physical as well as spiritual reality. I don't think that one is more "real" than another.

and 2) How does an episcopacy equal a papacy?

It doesn't, as I said in the original post.

Simply put, I do not understand why Protestants seem so ready to accede to the claims of Romanists when they offer such proof texts from the ECFs.

And I do not understand why fellow Protestants seem so ready to assume that anyone who asks the questions is already acceding to the claims of "Romanists." Nor why "Romanist" is still such a popular term 500 years later. I don't call the British "Redcoats" anymore, but maybe that's just me.

Now, if I am coming across as being uncharitable with these questions, I will most gladly return to the hole out of which I crawled to post this.

There's nothing uncharitable in the questions, only in assuming that I've already thrown myself into the Tiber or that I'm shallow enough to assume that a bishop equals a Pope. And I don't see what in my original post prompted such a response other than a presupposition on the part of the reader.

If you can point me to some good resources that answer my questions without overreacting to Catholicism, I would certainly appreciate it. Otherwise I won't ask anymore of your time.

Blessings,
DTK[/QUOTE]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What suprises me is how many Protestants jump immediately to assuming that simply because I'm asking these questions, I'm therefore heading down the path of "Romanism."

I think that the question --

"doesn't it make a pretty strong case that episcopal government and real (not just spiritual) presence were part of the church from the beginning?"

-- contains more than a neutral inquiry, and suggests that the reasoning of the questioner has begun to be persuaded. If people respond with concern on that basis there is matter of thankfulness that people care.

Please note, it is not merely these topics which create concern; the very method of supposing the earliest undertanding of the post-canonical church to be the best representative of the canonical church is dangerous in and of itself, and is the seed-bed of Romanist tradition. It forgets that the mystery of iniquity was already at work in the apostles' days, and that a tradition of error and heresy stood antithetically opposed to the tradition of truth and unity from the start.
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
What suprises me is how many protestants jump immediately to assuming that simply because i'm asking these questions, i'm therefore heading down the path of "romanism."

I never said/suggested that. And given what else followed, I'm going back to my hole.

DTK
 

P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
Not to beat a dead horse, but I noticed this:
I do not understand why ... "Romanist" is still such a popular term 500 years later. I don't call the British "Redcoats" anymore, but maybe that's just me.
I don't think it's an entirely fair comparison - but if you must view it in those terms, consider that while the British surrendered and have recognized American sovereignty and even become our allies, Rome continues to oppose the gospel and lead souls to hell. Even if "Romanist" were a purely polemic label (which I would respectfully dispute) it still would serve as a useful reminder that Rome is opposed to the gospel of Christ - that it is an heretical sect that has anathematized the true gospel.
 

louis_jp

Puritan Board Freshman
Not to beat a dead horse, but I noticed this:
I do not understand why ... "Romanist" is still such a popular term 500 years later. I don't call the British "Redcoats" anymore, but maybe that's just me.
I don't think it's an entirely fair comparison - but if you must view it in those terms, consider that while the British surrendered and have recognized American sovereignty and even become our allies, Rome continues to oppose the gospel and lead souls to hell. Even if "Romanist" were a purely polemic label (which I would respectfully dispute) it still would serve as a useful reminder that Rome is opposed to the gospel of Christ - that it is an heretical sect that has anathematized the true gospel.

Plus the fact that the British no longer wear red coats, but Romanists still adhere to the Bishop of Rome.

---------- Post added at 10:11 PM ---------- Previous post was at 09:42 PM ----------

As George Stanley Faber said, with regard to the term "Catholic":

"In the legitimate use of the term, I am far from denying to any individual in communion with the Church of Rome the appellation of "Catholic": for I believe his particular limited church to be a branch, though a very corrupt and lamentably withered branch, of the Catholic Church of Christ.... But, after the restless humour of Ishmael whose hand was against every man that every man's hand might be against him, the gentlemen of the Romish persuasion are not content to share the name of catholic with the members of other churches which are quite as independent as the church of Rome can be: They, on all occasions, affect to assume it, as being, what in truth it is not, their own proper distinguishing appellation: they claim it, in short, as being their own, not in joint tenancy, but absolutely and specially and exclusively.

"Now this most absurd and arrogant assumption, which puts them in a posture of schismatical hostility against every other branch of Christ's Universal Church, can never be allowed by any Christian, who for a single moment gives himself the trouble to consider its obvious and inevitable tendency. For if he concede to the Latin the title of Catholic... he of course virtually excommunicates himself and commits a sort of ecclesiastical suicide, by acknowledging, that he has no right to the name of Catholic, and consequently that he is not a member of the Catholic or Universal Church.

(From "The Difficulties of Romanism").
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Your two points are quite good ones and deserve some consideration. However, not having read the letters, I have two questions that may clear some things up.

1. Does Ignatius ever refer to the Pope and if so, to which one? That of Alexandria or Rome? If not, then there is no need to interpolate into the early church an institution that would not be clearly defined until the 6th century (I think we can probably interpret the episcopacy as simply the status quo, which he is arguing for).

2. Would the way in which he uses the term "real presence" possibly be consistent with the traditional Calvinist view that Christ is present in the Eucharist (and which leaves it at that)?

Don't know if the questions help or confuse.
 

P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
1. Does Ignatius ever refer to the Pope and if so, to which one? That of Alexandria or Rome? If not, then there is no need to interpolate into the early church an institution that would not be clearly defined until the 6th century (I think we can probably interpret the episcopacy as simply the status quo, which he is arguing for).
No, Ignatius doesn't refer to anyone as "pope." While in all his other letters to various churches, Ignatius names the "bishop" of the church, Ignatius does not name any bishop of the Romans. Some people have viewed this as an acknowledgment that there was no single "bishop" of the Romans in Ignatius' day. If the church of Ignatius' day had been papal, one could hardly expect Ignatius to be unaware of who the pope was, and certainly one would not expect Ignatius to greet and commend less significant bishops (of Ephesus, for example) and overlook the "successor of Peter and Paul."

2. Would the way in which he uses the term "real presence" possibly be consistent with the traditional Calvinist view that Christ is present in the Eucharist (and which leaves it at that)?
He doesn't even use the term "real presence." He simply maintains the Scriptural metaphor. The most oft-cited (by both transubstantiationists and Eastern Orthodox) line from Ignatius is: "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." Failing to recognize Ignatius' point, these folks argue that "they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh" should be taken in a transubstantial or mystical sense. Ignatius' point, however, is that the heretics he is discussing denied that Jesus ever had flesh and blood. Consequently, for those heretics the Eucharist was an absurdity and they refused to participate in it.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Your two points are quite good ones and deserve some consideration. However, not having read the letters, I have two questions that may clear some things up.

Thank you for asking these questions. They're certainly worth asking and they're questions I've asked myself. I would encourage you to read them online or get a book...the longest letter is to the Ephesians and probably isn't too much longer than some of Paul's shorter Epistles, and certainly not as theologically complex.

1. Does Ignatius ever refer to the Pope and if so, to which one? That of Alexandria or Rome? If not, then there is no need to interpolate into the early church an institution that would not be clearly defined until the 6th century (I think we can probably interpret the episcopacy as simply the status quo, which he is arguing for).

Absolutely not. The closest he comes to anything of the sort (close in the way that Earth is closer to Venus than it is to the Sun) is to praise the Roman church for having a "pre-eminance in love" or some such thing (don't have the letter in front of me right now. For the first several centuries there does seem to have been a special honor given to the church in Rome, but it was not jurisdictional and certainly not universal. To take his comment as anything of the sort, beyond a praise for their good conduct, seems to require a presupposition of Papal supremacy.

What is very, very clear to me now is that proving that Ignatius doesn't establish a Papacy is a long way from refuting a 3-tiered episcopal structure. The immediate reaction by Protestants (including mine initially) was to jump straight to refuting medeival Roman Catholic arguments rather than try to deal with Ignatius on his own terms and in his own context. I'm still trying to figure out his own terms and context and don't pretend to be an expert by any remote stretch. I'm still learning and seeking help from those who know more.

2. Would the way in which he uses the term "real presence" possibly be consistent with the traditional Calvinist view that Christ is present in the Eucharist (and which leaves it at that)?

I don't know. In critiquing the Docetists who apparently were challenging, or even infiltrating, the early churches, he made the famous comment to the Smyrneans that "They abstain from the Eucharist..because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ." He certainly seems to speak in very literal terms, but I don't know that any later understanding of real presence can or should be read into his view, whether Calvinist, Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, or whatever. It may be that the closest is something like the Eastern approach that says "We don't know how it is or when it is, it just is and we'll leave it at that." But I'm only speculating.

Does his comment imply that the antidote to Docetism is to believe in a literal and physical presence? I don't know. I don't think we can develop any such thing from his simple letters. He is not saying specifically that anyone who "denies that the Eucharist (which in his context meant the entire liturgy including the Supper) is the flesh and blood in a literal sense" is to be condemned. Rather he's condemning Docetism for denying that Christ had a body or blood--obviously then they will deny that his body is in any way present in worship, because they deny that it even exists.

Don't know if the questions help or confuse.

I'm already confused and don't need anyone's help :p

I'm just trying to get to a discussion other than those I've already had, or already read, which usually is a Roman Catholic citing a few verses and saying "See, there's the Pope and there's Transubstantiation!" followed by a Protestant proving that the Pope and their view of real presence can't be justified--followed by yet another debate over medeival theology while Ignatius himself really only serves as an ornament to frame a debate that's largely missing the mark on both sides.

---------- Post added at 11:01 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:35 AM ----------

What suprises me is how many Protestants jump immediately to assuming that simply because I'm asking these questions, I'm therefore heading down the path of "Romanism."

I think that the question --

"doesn't it make a pretty strong case that episcopal government and real (not just spiritual) presence were part of the church from the beginning?"

-- contains more than a neutral inquiry, and suggests that the reasoning of the questioner has begun to be persuaded. If people respond with concern on that basis there is matter of thankfulness that people care.

Is there such a thing as a neutral inquiry? I do appreciate, and am thankful, that people would respond with concern and I don't dismiss that. However, note that nearly every response here so far (forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but I believe even yours to which I'm currently responding) shows the reasoning of "This guy is reading an early church father--and he's possibly persuaded that there was an episcopal structure to the government that early--therefore he's asceding to the claims of Romanists and must be seeing the Pope in these letters."

I'm seeking to treat this matter quite apart from Popes, Purgatories, Indulgences, or any other such thing. I'm not asking "Doesn't this prove that there was a Pope in Rome?" but rather "Doesn't this strongly suggest that by the time he wrote these letters in the very early 2nd century, there already was a structure established in multiple churches in which a person with the title 'bishop' was over those with the title 'presbyter'?" There's a long way from that to a singluar bishop in one city claiming universal jurisdiction over the entire church.

Please note, it is not merely these topics which create concern; the very method of supposing the earliest undertanding of the post-canonical church to be the best representative of the canonical church is dangerous in and of itself, and is the seed-bed of Romanist tradition. It forgets that the mystery of iniquity was already at work in the apostles' days, and that a tradition of error and heresy stood antithetically opposed to the tradition of truth and unity from the start.

Technically, the mystery of iniquity was present in the Garden of Eden I suppose, so doctrinal error and malformed praxis certainly aren't new. Simply assuming that those closest in time to the apostles are automatically 100% correct is dangerous, as you say. Assuming that anyone is necessarily more correct for some arbitrary reason--whether time, location, background, language, or whatever--is dangerous.

I am not assuming that either this period of history or this man in particular are completely correct. Having looked at many arguments for the form of church government, I currently remain pursuaded that the NT description of it is not well enough defined to settle on an absolute answer. Obviously others disagree strongly with that--and among them are Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Luterans, and a host of others who all disagree as to what the NT actually says about church government. I heard R.C. Sproul say once, when asked at a conferece about which form of government is most Scriptural, something to the effect of "After all these years and a lot of studying, I'm really not sure." Personally I can see a case for Episcopal or Presbyterian govenment (two-office or three!) in the NT model--I think congregationalism is more of a stretch but not unwarranted. So where would I look next? Looking at the earliest records of how the early church governed itself might shed some light.

So here we see Ignatius, already before the year 120, not suggesting or pursuading these churches to adopt some form of government, but praising them for their good order and their unity with their bishop and presbytery...evidently a separate office. Either these churches received his letters and asked "Who is this guy, and what's a bishop?" or they knew what he was talking about because they already were familiar with that structure.

So assuming that letters from ~120 A.D. are automatically 100% accurate is dangerous. But assuming they stand as a farily authentic witness to the conditions present at the time seems pretty reasonable. Yes I'm aware that there is debate about the authenticity of all of their content. Best I've been able to tell, the so called "middle recension" seems to be pretty widely accepted as reliable. But I'm way, way outside of my field.

I also understand that other early writings differ and things must be reconciled. But nobody questions that an episcopal form of government was pretty well established from a pretty early date, to which I believe the early apologists appealed to establish themselves as the true church against the heretics even by the late 2nd century (admittedly I'm going mainly from non-primary sources). If episcopal government (and by that I mean conciliar episcopal government, not one led by a single universal bishop) developed, the question would be when. And if Ignatius is saying what he seems to me to be saying, then apparently it developed sometime prior to even his own writings, which aren't a whole lot later than the completion of the NT and even the lives of the Apostles themselves. That's an awfully short gap of time.

So thank you for addressing my questions with pastoral concern. For that I am truly appreciative. But it would be very productive if everyone quit assuming that this line of thinking automatically leads to distinctively Roman Catholic dogmas.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
The Ignatian corpus contains interpolation. Even accepting the text in its present condition, there is no reason why the Ignatian bishop cannot be viewed as acting in the capacity of an ordinary minister; that is, the episcopacy is purely congregational, which is akin to the way the bishop functions in high Presbyterianism. Viewing the subject this way has the advantage of reconciling the Ignatian presentation with other sub-apostolic authors.

I'm not familiar with the way the bishop functions in "high Presbyterianism"...is this basically the "three office view" where the Teaching Elder holds a position distinct from, but not above or below, the Ruling Elders (and Deacons are separate)? A few have suggested to me that what Ignatius describes is basically this three office presbyterianism.

From some other citations I've seen in the 1st-2nd century fathers, specifically Clement of Rome, Justin and Irenaeus (I read 1 Clement some time back but have seen only snippets of the others) it seems that the terms for Overseer and Elder are used somewhat interchangeably as in the NT. Ignatius differs in that he seems to lay out great stress on the role of the bishop over the presbyters. What you said above jives with what I've read from several sources on very early church history, namely that congretations seem to have each had a "bishop" who presided over the worship services (Rome itself is in question). Over time, somewhat by necessity, bishops came to preside over more than one congregation in a given city or region. As the church spread, the presiding role came to be taken up by the elders/presbyters in the congregation while initiation rites like baptism, etc. required the presence of the bishop. With further time those too were delegated to the presbyters. I'm sure that's pretty simplified but I think it's a good summary of what I've gleaned from a variety of sources from a variety of backgrounds.

So the question in my mind isn't whether each congregation at a given point in history had its own bishop, but rather, whether each congregation's bishop presided over the presbyters. If so then the structure was still episcopal, and later developments were simply the result of the church spreading and having more congregations than bishops. If not, then there was some shift in the actual organization of the church.

It seems that, at least to Ignatius, the bishop at a congregation was over the presbyters and deacons in authority and particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist (meaning the entire Liturgy and not just the supper). I could see his as one opinion among many except that, as I said earlier, he is evidently writing to congregations who already knew what he was talking about and already had the structure that was familiar to him.

How precisely to harmonize that with the testimonies of other fathers is beyond my level of understanding at this point.

How is high Presbyterianism defined? Thanks for your post!
 

P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
I already addressed the most popular "Eucharist to be the body" quotation from Ignatius. But there are a couple of other quotations that you're not likely to get from Eastern Orthodox and Romanist advocates:

Ignatius (Letter to the Romans, Chapter 7):
I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.
Ignatius (Letter to the Trallians, Chapter 8):
You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith (which is the flesh of the Lord) and in love (which is the blood of Jesus Christ).
The significance of these quotations cannot be underestimated. They demonstrate Ignatius' willingness to employ metaphorical language regarding the body and blood of Christ, unless one is going to try to argue that the blood of Christ is literally "love" or that the flesh of Christ is literally "faith." Certainly, transubstantial language is right out. Ignatius is clear that Jesus was truly man. Thus, one would not interpret his comment that Jesus flesh is "faith" to mean that Jesus flesh is really faith under the accidents of human flesh, or that his blood is really love under the accidents of human blood.

Indeed, when one reads Ignatius' comment, "They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up," in light of his other metaphorical references above, it becomes clear that Ignatius is simply maintaining the Scriptural metaphor.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I'm not familiar with the way the bishop functions in "high Presbyterianism"...is this basically the "three office view" where the Teaching Elder holds a position distinct from, but not above or below, the Ruling Elders (and Deacons are separate)? A few have suggested to me that what Ignatius describes is basically this three office presbyterianism.

Yes, "high Presbyterianism" refers to the three office view. There is nothing in the Ignatian corpus, as it has come down to us, which requires diocesan episcopacy. Ignatius' bishop seems to function on a congregational, local level, in association with elders and deacons and with a very close connection with the people.
 

Christusregnat

Puritan Board Professor
A few thoughts on Ignatius:

As has been noted, the terms he uses are to be taken in the context in which they are given, rather than reading things back into them. For instance, it can very easily be demonstrated from Clement and others that the Bishop and the Prebyter are considered one office by some fathers, and those closer to the source, whereas Ignatius could be a transitional thought, or could merely be a variation on the equality of Presbyter/Bishop (first among equals, for instance; this fits well with the analogy of the Father and the Son). It is difficult to say given what he does say. What he does say, however, is contradicted by the status quo used by Clement. I find Clement, albeit we only have one epistle, to be much more apostolically minded; both in his doctrinal soundness, as well as his extensive use of the Old Scriptures.

Another important point about Ignatius is to recognize the humility of this holy man. He constantly recognizes his office of "bishop" as a fellow-office with the deacons. I think he may be somewhat overstating the case, but his "bishop" was not a commander of commanders, but a servant of servants.

As Rev. Winzer notes, Ignatius places the bishop within the local congregation, and conceivable (albeit I haven't read the epistles in Greek) even gramatically united the two categories. For instance, I'm interested if he uses "te kai" in connecting the bishop with the presbyters.

I don't recall anything in his eucharistic doctrines that would offend a Calvinist. He calls the supper the medicine of immortality, but all of the means of grace are that.

His praise of Rome has to do with their soon-to-be reception of him. I find it most interesting that when Ignatius showed up to be ground to "pure bread" by the lion's teeth, he did not seek some kind of papal blessing, but rather prayed for and blessed all of the saints from the church at Rome; presumably their presbyters as well. This, if anything, demonstrates his non-papal character, as well as his views on predestination, etc.

There are far more profitable topics to be gleaned from Ignatius than later controverted points, and I would encourage you to meditate on those.

Godspeed,
 
Last edited:

P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
In his recent book Is Rome the True Church, Norman Geisler writes regarding the Ignatian epistles (p. 154, n.5):
Many have challenged the authenticity of these works. But Anglican scholars like Bishop Usher [sic] and J. B. Lightfoot have strongly defended them. Nonetheless, a later date is not without reasons. First, there is no manuscript evidence forcing belief in an early date. Second, there are differing manuscript traditions, one of which is shorter, indicating changes that have been made from the original. Third, the more highly developed form of authoritarian episcopal governments fits better at a somewhat later date. Fourth, the repetitive references to a single authoritative bishop found throughout these epistles seem a bit contrived. Finally, if an earlier date is assumed, it contradicts other books from this period just discussed.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
There is nothing in the Ignatian corpus, as it has come down to us, which requires diocesan episcopacy. Ignatius' bishop seems to function on a congregational, local level, in association with elders and deacons and with a very close connection with the people.

True. The arrangement of having bishops governing over diocese containing multiple congregations seems to have been a structural development, and probably did not happen uniformly all at once. As you say, the bishops seemed to function on local and congregational levels with very close associations with the people and the elders/deacons. I guess what I'm trying to grasp is the hierarchical relationship between bishop and elder. Whether a bishop governed over a single congregation or a hundred congregations would not change the fundamental relationship in authority between bishop and elder, right?

So ultimately, the size and scope of a bishop's congegrational oversight wasn't essential to the nature of his authority. That's what seems to make it so difficult to discern the pattern of government so early in history, because it's almost impossible not to see it as we wish to see it based on some presupposition.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Back after a hiatus :)

Thank you for your feedback!

A few thoughts on Ignatius:

As has been noted, the terms he uses are to be taken in the context in which they are given, rather than reading things back into them.

Such is the goal, for sure, with any piece of writing. In this case I'm wondering if it's possible to read his terms without reading either our, or somebody else's, meanings back into them.

For instance, it can very easily be demonstrated from Clement and others that the Bishop and the Prebyter are considered one office by some fathers, and those closer to the source, whereas Ignatius could be a transitional thought, or could merely be a variation on the equality of Presbyter/Bishop (first among equals, for instance; this fits well with the analogy of the Father and the Son).

1 Clement is an interesting case. Where he does address the matter it's more tangential to the main body of his writing, and he isn't writing to correct their structure but rather to bring them back into submission to that existing structure. So we're left somewhat at a loss to explain what that structure might be. He definitely uses the terms seemingly interchangeably, such as in Ch. 42 and 44 in the context of the bishops/presbyters being appointed by the apostles, together with a system for appointing succeeding bishops/presbyters after the death of the originals. But it's interesting that in Ch. 40 and 41 he describes the order of worship and rule in Israel using the model of the Temple priesthood, evidently as an analogy to the Church, where he describes the offering being given by the high priest. He talks of each office performing its own duties, "For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen." Does this high priest --> priest --> Levite --> Laymen structure correspond to bishop --> presbyter --> deacon --> laymen? In both cases, all are degrees within the same holy and royal priesthood under each Covenant, yet with different degrees of administrative authority. So I think Clement can be read both ways. And our reading of Clement will affect how we read his views into Ignatius :D

Ignatius is apparently unusual in that he does definitely distiguish the bishop (singular)from the presbyters (plural). He doesn't seem to directly address the matter in his letter to the Romans, but I can't see any principled reason to suspect that his overall theology (whatever it was) would have been any different in their case. I have reread his letters numerous times over the past week and can't get away from the strong impression that he really does hold the bishop to be above the presbyters in authority. It's the "vibe" that I get, rightly or wrongly. Statements like

Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.​

suggest to me that it wasn't just that the bishop and presbyters were in harmony with each other but rather that the presbyters were in harmony with the bishiop that made the Ephesian church commendable. His comment to the Magnesian church seems more explicit:

Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of Him who has wired us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible.​

Emphasis is mine obviously--other translations have "be docile toward" or some other rendering, but the idea of submission is pretty clear. Again, I can't see it as just an expression of mutual Christian submission, but rather a submission of presbyters to the bishop, and of the laity to all of these.

He also draws analogies with God and the apostles, like Magnesians 6:

... I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ...​

The hierarchical arrangement, as well as the derived nature of the authority of the apostles relative to God, seems to be the model here for bishops and presbyters. The letter to the Trallians has:

In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.​

Again, I see no reason to think that the bishop in his day functioned at the level of a diocese and certainly not that the structure was nearly as well defined as in later ages of the church, but I find it very difficult to believe that Ignatius was describing "high presbyterianism" rather than episcopal government in which the bishop had authority over the presbyters.

It is difficult to say given what he does say.

Yep! :)

What he does say, however, is contradicted by the status quo used by Clement.

As above, that depends on how we read Clement. Clement was a/the bishop in Rome, and that congregation received a letter from Ignatius not long after Clement held an office, so it's tough to see a tension or contradiction between them, especially since neither explicitly addressed church government as its own topic but only as it related to the larger issues they were addressing. Similarly, the Ephesian church received an Ignatian letter not all that long after Timothy himself had been a bishop/elder there, and had received Paul's letters and instructions for governing the church. Those churches who received Ignatius' letters, including Clement's own church in Rome, must have already been familiar with what Ignatius was talking about...or so seems reasonable.

I find Clement, albeit we only have one epistle, to be much more apostolically minded; both in his doctrinal soundness, as well as his extensive use of the Old Scriptures.

Apart from a pretty "high view" of martyrdom, I'm not sure where Ignatius would be doctrinally unsound--in fact he seemed to have a pretty clear Trinitarian line to his thinking for having written so early in history. That said, Clement definitely reads much more like an NT epistle in its quotation of so much of the OT and its addressing of so many similar concerns as Paul's letters, and Hebrews.

Another important point about Ignatius is to recognize the humility of this holy man. He constantly recognizes his office of "bishop" as a fellow-office with the deacons. I think he may be somewhat overstating the case, but his "bishop" was not a commander of commanders, but a servant of servants.

I agree! Would that all Christians, myself first among them, would have this humility. Still I don't know that I could see this humility as necessarily bearing upon the matter of whether the bishop had an administrative authority different from the presbyters.

As Rev. Winzer notes, Ignatius places the bishop within the local congregation, and conceivable (albeit I haven't read the epistles in Greek) even gramatically united the two categories. For instance, I'm interested if he uses "te kai" in connecting the bishop with the presbyters.

That's beyond my level. I'm just a guy who reads English :D The only place (in English) where there might be an equating of the offices, that I found anyway, was in the 2nd chapter to the Trallians:

It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found.​

Does this mean that the bishop is part of the presbytery? I don't know. I'm also not sure whether in the episcopal structure of the later early church, it may have been the case that every bishop technically was also a presbyter, but not every presbyter was a bishop. :think:

I don't recall anything in his eucharistic doctrines that would offend a Calvinist. He calls the supper the medicine of immortality, but all of the means of grace are that.​

Here, too, perhaps impossible to read him without carrying in some later doctrine, whether Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic, whatever...?

His praise of Rome has to do with their soon-to-be reception of him. I find it most interesting that when Ignatius showed up to be ground to "pure bread" by the lion's teeth, he did not seek some kind of papal blessing, but rather prayed for and blessed all of the saints from the church at Rome; presumably their presbyters as well. This, if anything, demonstrates his non-papal character, as well as his views on predestination, etc.

I agree absolutely that there is nothing in his letters to suggest that any particular bishop had any higher authority than any other bishop. His comments about the Roman church presiding in love, etc. can't be taken in that direction unless somebody really, really, really wants to find it there. I cannot see support for a Papacy here. In fact only support for a conciliar structure.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply to my earlier post. I'd be interested to know more people's thoughts, and more of yours. I hope all can be edified by the discussion.

Blessings,
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1) Respecting the levitical comparison:
Why must an analogy be pressed down to a one-to-one correspondence? And assuming it should, wouldn't the Scriptural analogy be Christ (high priest), then bishop/presbyter, then deacon, then layman?

2) As Rev. Winzer has pointed out, any three-office Presbyterian (Minister/elder/deacon) can see affinities between his principles, and what is espoused by Ignatius. Now, whether Ignatius already represents a trajectory away from a strictly biblical model is an opinion that only comparative analysis between history and the biblical data can determine.

3) As for the issue of how recent the data is relative to the most primitive NT church, one only needs to read the NT to see how quickly Satan was at work to inject the reconstitution of the church with errors. One common failure of the church in every age is her tendency to pragmatism. Israel wanted to be like the nations around her, and have an earthly king. The church found the Empirical model of the State almost irresistible, in preference to collegial rule of council (minster and elders, at the lowest level; ministers and presbyters in convention, at higher levels). The practical matter of a presiding officer (which we retain in our moderators) became a position of dominance. Not, however, by a necessary progress.

So, even if in Ignatius' day the "presiding" or senior bishop is gathering overmuch precedence, this proves nothing but the human tendency to the collection of power. As for the description being more than what we would find in a Presbyterian church, that is nothing but the eye of the interpreter. What in all those words can not be fairly understood as the people's duty to listen respectfully to the oration of their minister, as he speaks on behalf of Christ, and submit to Christ through the words of their "bishop"?

The problem today is: few folks today in this egalitarian culture understand submission. They think only in black and white ideas. Either we must go to some powerfully rigid hierarchical structure, and so find in Eastern or Roman polity the "proper development" of biblical polity; or else we have no true structure with real submission.

This is exactly what the Reformers wanted to avoid. The Scylla of centralization, and the equally deadly Charybdis of anarchy. Reformed polity is an attempt to return the (western) church to a biblical footing. The Eastern model avoided the extreme centralization of Rome, however the shape of the united church's polity was set on a pyramidical course well before the East-West split. This form is simply unbiblical, in its "developed" forms, East or West.

4) Finally, respecting the Lord's Supper: enough data is presented in the posts above to show that metaphor is plentiful in a variety of linguistic circumstance in both Ignatius, Clement, etc. Simply saying that "every side" can read-into the Fathers their own views is not the same thing as leveling all views.

Unless one has already decided that the Reformers were nominalist/post-nominalist/anti-nominalist or etc., and themselves cared nothing for an essential recovery of the biblical doctrines (whatever the Fathers said, or Rome itself), one owes them (and their heirs) the courtesy of granting them their attempt at biblical recovery. If this recovery (whether on polity or on sacramentology) was successful, then it becomes academic in studying the Fathers to discern both the expression of this biblicism, as well as noting where they may have been "heading," given the complexities of history.

"Reading-back" into history is a danger we all face. However, it is significantly greater problem for those who insist that "development" is as authoritative as the Bible. Both Rome and Eastern churches have this tendency the worst (even when they have competing claims); and to a lesser extent in confessional Anglicanism and Lutheranism. Anabaptism originally evaded this problem entirely by rejecting church history. It reemerged in Landmarkism.

The Reformed churches stand self-consciously between the Lutherans and the Anabaptists, in putting the Bible in a special category, while not cutting themselves off from church history. So, it is not accurate simply to say that we are reading our own theology into the Fathers. our methodology belies such a simplistic characterization.
 
Last edited:

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Rev. Buchanan,

Thank you for your reply. I am by no means a scholar of history, church or otherwise, nor a scholar of New Testament writings or 1st Century culture. So with humility I will ask for clarification, because I believe I see some inherent circularity in some of the statements you've made--or, they're statements that could equally be made (and have been) by people who would entirely disagree with you as to what the right interpretation is. I'm not sure I see a resolution to my struggle to understand.

1) Respecting the levitical comparison:
Why must an analogy be pressed down to a one-to-one correspondence? And assuming it should, wouldn't the Scriptural analogy be Christ (high priest), then bishop/presbyter, then deacon, then layman?

I don't know that it must be. I think that it can be. Your alternative can fit also. So the question moves above this particular analogy, ultimately to "what is the best way to decide which interpretation of the analogy is better? Which is right? Is there any objective way to decide, and who has the authority to decide?"

2) As Rev. Winzer has pointed out, any three-office Presbyterian (Minister/elder/deacon) can see affinities between his principles, and what is espoused by Ignatius.

Yes, as can congregational Baptists. Anyone who begins with a view of the "right" form of government can find that in Ignatius, although I think the congregational view is the furthest stretch. His letters don't give enough context or background--rather I would argue they assume it and simply leave it unstated, obviously understanding that the recipients of the letters would already know how to round out the details.

Now, whether Ignatius already represents a trajectory away from a strictly biblical model is an opinion that only comparative analysis between history and the biblical data can determine.

Can it? How much weight is given to history? We can all agree that Scripture has the final say, except for the thorny issue of deciding in which ways we should use history to interpret Scripture. It's likely a circular problem that ultimately comes down to presuppositions about hermeneutics--which presuppositions are, for lack of a better term, traditions.

I am not convinced that we can recover a "strictly biblical model" because I remain convinced that there is simply too little detail present in the New Testament to guage exactly how the church functioned in its infancy. The government developed, no doubt, as it would have to as the church grew and faced new problems. What was the council in Acts 15? A council of bishops? A general assembly of presbyters? A cordial gathering of pastors who accepted the council's decisions only out of mutual consent but not any binding authority belonging to that council? Everyone sees his position in the New Testament. R.C. Sproul was once asked on tape, what model of government was the "right" one, and he answered that he still isn't sure. To me that says a lot.

So how does one view Ignatius? If we accept just for argument's sake that he does in fact assume a hierarchical submission of presbyters to their bishops (congregational or otherwise), then we can only assume this is a move "away" from the Biblical model if we presuppose that we know what that Biblical model is. But if we acknowledge the ambiguity of the situation, it may well make sense to use Ignatius as a way to understand how the larger church itself understood New Testament government within 40-60 years of the New Testament itself.

Other early writers did seem to use "bishop" and "presbyter" interchangeably. It seems some even did so after the hierarchical structure was set. Yet do we find anyone along the early centuries raising alarms that the church was being taken away from its original purity of government? When docetism, Sabellianism, Arianism, Gnosticism, and other -ism's popped up, they started knock-down-drag-out fights. People said "Hold the mustard, this is NOT what the church has always believed." Perhaps this does exist and was an issue, and I simply am not aware of it, but it does not seem that anyone mounted a resistance to hierarchical authority. They did mount resistance to other heresies. And they appealed to the hierarchical authority of the bishops to support their claim that they had the correct interpretations and the heretics did not.

So is it possible that Ignatius, rather than departing from the NT and other early writers, simply wrote with greater precision in describing how it was understood to operate so early? Such would, perhaps, better explain why the hierarchical structure became so widespread so quickly and without being fought from within the church as a deviation or heresy.

Or perhaps I have no idea what I'm talking about. That one is defintely on the table. :doh:

3) As for the issue of how recent the data is relative to the most primitive NT church, one only needs to read the NT to see how quickly Satan was at work to inject the reconstitution of the church with errors.

Indeed. Unfortunately anyone can claim this to show that their particular view is right and the opposing view is a lie of Satan.

One common failure of the church in every age is her tendency to pragmatism. Israel wanted to be like the nations around her, and have an earthly king. The church found the Empirical model of the State almost irresistible, in preference to collegial rule of council (minster and elders, at the lowest level; ministers and presbyters in convention, at higher levels).

The church continued to govern itself through collegial councils for many centuries. In the East it never stopped. How exactly did it move away from collegial rule, except in the development of the Papacy? (which interestingly was strongly resisted from within the rest of the church and mainly led to the Schism).

The practical matter of a presiding officer (which we retain in our moderators) became a position of dominance. Not, however, by a necessary progress.

So, even if in Ignatius' day the "presiding" or senior bishop is gathering overmuch precedence, this proves nothing but the human tendency to the collection of power.

Possibly, but I still am not convinced that it may not prove (or strongly suggest) that this was the model from the beginning.

As for the description being more than what we would find in a Presbyterian church, that is nothing but the eye of the interpreter. What in all those words can not be fairly understood as the people's duty to listen respectfully to the oration of their minister, as he speaks on behalf of Christ, and submit to Christ through the words of their "bishop"?

Nothing. What you've said here applies equally well to an episcopal or presbyterian structure. Obviously this was the main thrust of Ignatius' appeal to them. He did not head-on address the structure itself.

As you say above, this is all in the eye of the interpreter. That is unavoidable. So although we can all affirm that Scripture alone is the infallible authority, we still are left with the question of authority, and who has the authority to decide whose eye has the right interpretation.

So again I can't see a way to get around my own subjectivity in figuring out how to mix history with Scriptural interpretation, etc. I seek to submit to the church, yet I am defining for myself what the church actually is in order that I may submit to it. Uncovering the early models of submission to church authority, a focal point of Ignatius' letters, is not just an academic exercise to me, but one with real implications.

Thanks and God bless.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I just want to interject something here. What two offices were Timothy suppose to ordain men in? Notice the word Pastor is not used in those texts but it is obvious that one of them is a Pastor.

A side note....
Ignatius was an ECF. Noted. But it is also disputed that he also held to some views that might have been contrary to Scripture. ie. baptismal regeneration. Yes, he was a disciple of John. I know who he was.

Bill,
Have you conferred with your Pastor about your recent experiences and struggles? I am just wondering. He can probably give you some help in these matters. I know you belong to the OPC and they have some good understanding on ecclesiology. I would hope you have discussed it with him as he is a Pastor, Elder, and Bishop placed in an office to help you understand. Yes, I am a Reformed Baptist. But you ought to seek your Pastor out on this.

I am not so sure it is as subjective as you might want to make it sound. I believe the scriptures bear a strong light. It comes from somewhere outside of us.

BTW, I was taught there are three systems that can be found in the scriptures. Hierarchical, Presbyterian, and Congregational. That may be disputed by some. I am not so sure that the church would have been opposed to the Hierarchical system since it was raised under a monarchy from the Old Testament. I know that can be argued against from the Presbyterians. But there was a King and there was a High Priest. The High Priest was usually submissive to the King unfortunately in Israel. There are some really good books on this subject of Church Government. I recommend a book called 'Who Runs the Church'. It is a four views book.

Bill, I would warn you that sola scriptura usually takes a downward spiral doctrinally when EO and Papist thoughts start to creep in. I know you think that the Scriptures are important. I would also ask you to consider that soteriology usually takes a downward spiral doctrinally when those positions are also considered. They seem to go hand in hand. I would recommend again that you share your thoughts with your Pastor.
 
Last edited:

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
As you say above, this is all in the eye of the interpreter. That is unavoidable. So although we can all affirm that Scripture alone is the infallible authority, we still are left with the question of authority, and who has the authority to decide whose eye has the right interpretation.

So again I can't see a way to get around my own subjectivity in figuring out how to mix history with Scriptural interpretation, etc. I seek to submit to the church, yet I am defining for myself what the church actually is in order that I may submit to it. Uncovering the early models of submission to church authority, a focal point of Ignatius' letters, is not just an academic exercise to me, but one with real implications.

But you seem to be forgetting the most fundamental thing. Scripture is the supreme authority, not the church heirarchy. And Scripture is self-interpreting. Any tradition which refuses to be reformed by Scripture is setting itself against Scripture, no matter how ancient the "tradition" might appear. An old heresy is still heresy.

Our Confession is clear on the role of Scripture in the Reformed tradition:
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:[15] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.[16]

15. II Peter 3:16
16. Psa. 119:105, 130; Deut. 29:29; 30:10-14; Acts 17:11

VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical;[17] so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them.[18] But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them,[19] therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come,[20] that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner;[21] and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.[22]

17. Matt. 5:18; Psa. 119;89
18. Isa. 8:20; Matt. 15:3, 6; Acts 15:15; Luke 16:31
19. John 5:39; Acts 17:11; Rev. 1:3; II Tim. 3:14,15
20. Matt. 28:19-20; I Cor. 14:6; Mark 15:34
21. Col. 3:16; Exod. 20:4-6; Matt. 15:7-9
22. Rom. 15:4

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]

23. Acts 15:15; John 5:46; II Peter 1:20-21

X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.[24]

24. Matt. 22:29,31; Acts 28:25; I John 4:1-6

The central and essential message of Scripture is clear enough for the "unlearned" to understand. God has spoken in clear human words and propositions with objective meaning. Scripture is not as subjective as you seem to be saying. I would suggest to you that if a particular tradition can't get the clear gospel right, then they should be given much less weight in any opinion of yours. And when those traditions must rely upon "unwritten" apostolic tradition or distorted interpretations of history, rather than the clear statements of Scripture, they do not in practice believe in an infallible Scripture but their infallible tradition. Human traditions err. Scripture does not.

If you are really wrestling with this issue of authority and interpretation, which "real implications" seems to imply, then
I echo Randy's advice. Seek out your pastor on this, because you are playing with fire. Get on your knees and pray to Christ for the illumating work of his Spirit. Focus on the clear things of Scripture first, the person and work of Christ, before you wrestle with less clear things like historic polity and tradition.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top