Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans

The two editions of this epistle are again debated, with most scholars believing that the shorter version (thought, in this case, not much shorter!) is the original. We will base our comments on this edition. You can find the Donaldson translation here, and the Lightfoot translation here. The Greek is available here, and the PG edition is here (starts on column 685).

An outline of the epistle follows these lines: Title, I. Desire to see the Romans (ch. 1); II. Desire for martyrdom (chs. 2-5); III. Reasons for desiring martyrdom (chs. 6-8); IV. Conclusion (chs. 9-10).

Ignatius really seems to have a death wish in this letter. He wants to become food for the wild beasts. His words are: “Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” He was, in fact, sentenced to a death by wild beasts in the Colosseum, according to tradition.

One incidental thing needs to be mentioned. I looked carefully for any evidence pro or con the Romanist claims concerning the succession of Peter at Rome. There is no mention of the leadership of the church at Rome. Neither side, therefore, can gain much fodder for their arguments.

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18 Comments

  1. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 3:13 am

    I posted these selections from Ignatius’s letter to the Romans at Old Life yesterday. Lane, you said, “Neither side, therefore, can gain much fodder for their arguments”, but I think there is more to it than that. I think a closer reading of Ignatius, and an understanding of where he was going, what he was doing, and whom he was interacting with, provide some important clues as to why the second century church developed its “early catholic” flavor.

    On the other hand, according to the Orthodox writer John Behr, “Ignatius goes far beyond the other writers of his period in exalting the role of the apostles.” It is important to understand this disjunction: “Ignatius repeatedly states that as a bishop he, unlike the apostles, is not in a position to give orders or to lay down the precepts or the teachings (δόγματα), which come from the Lord and the apostles alone (cf. Magnesians 13; Romans 4:3; Ephesians 3:1 etc.)”.

    As for this letter to the church at Rome, Ignatius is, according to Adrian Fortescue (who gives what he claims to be that “Scriptural and historical argument for the papacy” that you had been looking for), Ignatius’s mention of Rome, “presiding over love” (1:4) is one of the cornerstones of “Roman” primacy.

    So while Rome’s “bishop” is not in view at all, the political connections of the church at Rome are repeatedly in view; this (rather than any other reason) is why the church at Rome “presides over love”. It is Rome’s role as “the capital of the empire” that gives them status, and for Ignatius, their ability to spare him from martyrdom, through their political connections, is the “love” in which they are presiding.

    These selections are from the Michael Holmes translation:

    1.1 For I am afraid of your love, in that it may do me wrong; for it is easy for you to do what you want, but it is difficult for me to reach God, unless you spare me. [There's that "love" that is, through its political connections, going to either save his life, or, if it holds its tongue, and fails to pull its political strings, along with Christ, going to be "bishop" of Antioch in his absence. So the place of love," has a reference to Rome's political connections.]

    2.1 For I will never again have an opportunity such as this to reach God, nor can you, if you remain silent, be credited with a greater accomplishment. For if you remain silent and leave me alone, I will be a word of God, but if you love my flesh [and spare my life], then I will again be a mere voice. [There's Roman "love" again.]

    2.2 Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the west, having summoned from the east.

    3.1-2 You have never envied anyone; you taught others. [Many believe this is a reference to 1 Clement.] And my wish is that those instructions that you issue when teaching disciples will remain in force. Just pray that I will have strength both outwardly and inwardly so that I may not just talk about it but want to do it, so that I may not merely be called a Christian but actually prove to be one. [That is, "teach self-sacrifice," and in doing so, "my death will confirm your "teaching" "in force"?]

    3.3 Nothing that is visible is good. [Did Ignatius believe in a “visible church” with a visible hierarchy? It seems not] “For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father. The work is not a matter of persuasive rhetoric ; rather, Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.”

    4.1 I am writing to all the churches and insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will–unless you hinder me [through your political connections]. I implore you; do not be unseasonably kind to me. Let me be food for the wild beasts; through whom I can reach God.

    4.3 I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul: they were apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am even now still a slave. [It is important to note that here, as in other places, Ignatius does not see any kind of "succession" of apostolic authority. He acknowledges himself -- he has repeatedly said he is a bishop -- to be far, far less, in every way, than Peter and Paul.]

    6.1 It is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to rule over the ends of the earth. [Of course, the Roman government currently rules over the ends of the earth.]

    6.2 Bear with me brothers and sisters: do not keep me from living; do not desire my death. Do not give to the world one who wants to belong to God or tempt him with material things.

    7.1 The ruler of this age wants to take me captive and corrupt my godly intentions. Therefore none of you who are present must help him. [That is, you at Rome are eminently capable of doing the wrong thing.]

    In this letter to the church at Rome, does Ignatius see even a bishop, much less someone who might be “the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth?

    When a bishop is mentioned here, that bishop is Christ (9.1). And the “love” of the Romans involves political connections that could either spare him the martyrdom he so desires, or confirm it.

    When a “visible church” is in view, “nothing that is visible is good.” When “teaching” is in view, he fears the Romans will teach wrongly. When “apostles” are in view, there is no succession, but a great gulf between apostle and bishop.

  2. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Subscribe

  3. Sean Patrick said,

    August 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    It is Rome’s role as “the capital of the empire” that gives them status, and for Ignatius, their ability to spare him from martyrdom, through their political connections, is the “love” in which they are presiding.

    Ignatius says absolutely nothing about sucking up to the Roman Church because they can protect him from martydom through ‘political connections.’

    Here is what he says:

    Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, I wish abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

    Importing an idea that by ‘presiding in love’ really means, ‘they can save me from being martyred’ seriously does violence to the text and is frankly, revisionist history. He never asks in the letter to be saved from martyrdom. Far from it.

    What is clear from Ignatius is that he stated clearly the role of the ‘monarchial bishop.’ “Let the bishop preside in God’s place, and presbyters take the place of the apostolic council, and let the deacons…be entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Magnesians 6.1) and elsewhere “For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. 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. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being the ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all (Epistle to the Trallians 2).

    In the letter to the Romans which is the topic of this thread, he even calls himself the ‘bishop of Syria.’

    It stands to reason that since the theme of a ‘monarchial bishop’ runs throughout all his letters that he would have expected Rome to have a ‘monarchial bishop’ as well.

    So, the Roman church ‘presides in love’ and has a bishop.

  4. Jeff Cagle said,

    August 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    …which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans

    Open question: Does this mean that the bishop of Rome’s jurisdiction is limited to Rome?

  5. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Sean, He never asks in the letter to be saved from martyrdom. Far from it.

    He is very conscious that he is going to Rome to die, and he is also very conscious that whomever he is addressing in the church at Rome (certainly NOT the bishop), they have the political connections to have his life spared. And he does not want them to do that.

    It stands to reason that since the theme of a ‘monarchial bishop’ runs throughout all his letters that he would have expected Rome to have a ‘monarchial bishop’ as well.

    Unless, as our mutual friend Peter Lampe has written, the city of Rome was very large, and there were multiple local (house) churches there, with multiple elder structures (who, according to Hermas, argued among one another as to who was greatest), and the concept of monarchical bishop simply wasn’t working in Rome at the time.

  6. Sean said,

    August 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Jeff Cagle.

    If you read all of Ignatius’ letters and pay attention to the greetings, the letter to the Romans is unique. He says that the church in Rome ‘presides in love.’ When he writes the other churches he does not say, for example, ‘To the Smyrnians who preside in love…’ or ‘To the Ephesians who preside in love…’

  7. Sean Patrick said,

    August 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    # 6 was me…I’ll try to be consistent with signing off.

    Unless, as our mutual friend Peter Lampe has written, the city of Rome was very large, and there were multiple local (house) churches there, with multiple elder structures (who, according to Hermas, argued among one another as to who was greatest), and the concept of monarchical bishop simply wasn’t working in Rome at the time.

    So, you agree that Ignatius sees a singular bishop in every other instance of his letters where he talks about being ‘the bishop’ or Syria or in his letter to Polycarp who he identifies as the ‘Bishop of Smyrna?’

    Its only the Romans whom you want to argue did not posses a singular bishop?

    So, your argument is that Ignatius is writing this letter to what he calls the singular ‘Church’ which ‘presides in love’ is really writing to a bunch of non-affiliated house churches that are not in communion with one another?

  8. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Jeff #4, the Hermenia commentary (William Schoedel) compares the phrase “in the place of the district” with similar phraseology in Thucydides, Polyaenus, Eusebius, and Plato [it is not used elsewhere in Ignatius], and it “refers to any relatively small area such as a district, city, or town”. He continues, “If Ignatius is speaking of the location of the church, he has Rome or Rome and its immediate environs” in mind, Not the whole empire.

  9. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Sean 7: Bock (writing about the work of Walter Bauer) suggests that the “development” of a monarchical bishop (and other things) may have been spread very unevenly throughout the empire. Such a thing clearly was not present from the beginning. Among Ignatius’s letters, Philadelphia did not have a bishop either. The gist of this is that it was a new concept, not readily accepted everywhere, and Ignatius was actually “selling” the concept to some of the places he wrote.

    And the truth is, you are taking the words “presides in love”, without any context, without knowing what he means by that — you are simply reading a later concept back into those words. For all the talk of “love” in that letter, it certainly makes sense to me that the phrase “προκαθημένη τῆς ἀγάπης” is “not to be understood apart from the circumstances in which he found himself and without taking into account the importance of the city as the place in which he was to attain God”. He wanted to die there, and he fears that their “love” will prevent him from doing so.

  10. Sean Patrick said,

    August 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    John 9 -

    Phiadelphia did not have a bishop either? How do you know that?

    Here is Ignatius’ letter to the church in Philadelphia.

    1) He praises the bishop.
    2) He exhorts unity with the bishop.

    “And the truth is, you are taking the words “presides in love”, without any context, without knowing what he means by that — you are simply reading a later concept back into those words.”

    And how do you avoid reading something altogether foreign in his word John? You read into his words a veiled plea for a political hook up in the city where Christians were being thrown to the lions in for entertainment. Name one patristic source who caught that John.

  11. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Sean, my bad, he praises and extols the bishop of Philadelphia, but he doesn’t seem to know his name. In fact, he doesn’t know his name. Now, if he doesn’t know who he’s talking about, how sincere can the praise and extolling be?

    As for “presides over love”, it’s already clear from the language “place of the district” in comparable writings that the phrase means “the immediate environs”. And our mutual friend Lampe argues that “presides over love” [based on context, because the language in the phrase is so unclear] has in mind as a referent “the Roman martyrs (under Nero) in the sense of ‘excellent in love (of Christ)”. It is very hard to imagine this has any sense at all of “universal jurisdiction”, especially given his use of the word “love” throughout the rest of the letter.

  12. Sean Patrick said,

    August 14, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    John.

    He does not name him. This is does not mean he does not know his name. If he is praising him but does not know him or anything about it him that makes him disingenuous at best and lying at worse. Is that your charge?

  13. johnbugay said,

    August 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I’m not making a charge. I asked a question.

  14. Sean Patrick said,

    August 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Answer your own question John.

    You asked, “In fact, he doesn’t know his name. Now, if he doesn’t know who he’s talking about, how sincere can the praise and extolling be?”

    I say he can be very sincere because not naming him by name in the letter is not the same thing as not knowing his name.

    What do you answer? Either you agree with me or you believe that he was insincere/disingenuous/lying.

  15. Reed Here said,

    August 14, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    dash cam

  16. johnbugay said,

    August 15, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Sean 14, first of all, I asked a question. It’s a matter for more explanation. Second, your two choices are not the only two choices. Ignatius’s whole “quest for martyrdom” may be, and has been seen as misguided:

    The Morbid Martyrdom of Ignatius

    Philip Schaff (1858): “But although he was a man of apostolic character, and governed the church with great care, he was personally not satisfied, until he could be counted worthy of sealing is testimony with his blood, and thereby attaining to the highest seat of honor. The coveted crown came to him at last, and his eager and morbid desire for martyrdom was gratified.”

    Henry Chadwick (Oxford/Cambridge, 1967): “… the conviction that martyrdom granted immediate admission to paradise and conferred a victor’s crown, combined with a somber evaluation of the Roman empire as a political institution, led to a tendency towards acts of provocation on the part of over-enthusiastic believers … Hotheads who provoked the authorities were soon censured by the church as mere suicides deserving no recognition. As, from the middle of the third century onwards, the private commemorations of the martyrs began to pass into the official and public liturgy of the church, control had to be exercised and the claims of an individual martyr were subjected to examination and scrutiny. Even so there were difficulties, mainly because there were different interpretations of what constituted provocation. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred at Rome before AD 117, was a man of intense devotion; his warnings that the influential Roman Christians should not try to obtain his release so as to deprive him of suffering in union with his Lord, could easily pass into an attitude that would appear provocative to a magistrate. His friend Polycarp, … was held up as a model on the specific ground that he did nothing to provoke the authorities but quietly waited for them to come and arrest him.”

    Paul Johnson, Catholic Historian (1972): “Ignatius, martyred at Rome around 117, begged his influential friends not to intervene and deprive him of suffering in the Lord; this attitude would have been regarded as heretical later in the century, when the saintly Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, set the pattern by doing nothing to provoke the authorities. The Church would not compromise on the matter of emperor-worship or the divinity of Christ, but otherwise it did not look for trouble.”

    William L. Lane, Paul T. Walls Professor of Wesleyan and Biblical Studies in the Department of Religion, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle WA, writing in “Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome, ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson, “Roman Christianity during the Formative Years from Nero to Nerva”: Ignatius and Hermas provide evidence that even in the first decades of the second century Rome was not centrally organized under the administrative authority of a single bishop. In six of his seven letters, Ignatius insists on the importance of the office of bishop. His silence in regard to this pastoral concern in the Letter to the Romans (ca. 110) is explained best by the absence of a monarchical bishop in Rome. Hermas (in Rome, approx 150 ad) refers only to “the elders who preside over the church”. The existence of several house churches only loosely connected with one another throughout Rome suggests why diversity, disunity, and a tendency toward independence were persistent problems in the early history of the Christian communities in Rome.

  17. Sean Patrick said,

    August 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Lane and anybody else.

    I invite you to read St Ignatius of Antioch on the Church.

    Some points of emphasis:

    In other words, denying that there is a uniquely authoritative bishop serving as the principle of unity of the universal Church would entirely undermine St. Ignatius’s repeated arguments that the unity and order of the particular Church depends upon loyalty and obedience to the singular diocesan bishop…

  18. Arnold said,

    September 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I would like to ask Mr. Bugay, do you find it reasonable to think that St. Ignatius (the student of John, author of John chapter 6) believed the eucharist was strictly symbolic while calling it the “medicine of immortality?” If so, why? Thank you in advance.


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