The Image-Bearer’s farewell: The letters of Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius, bishop of Antich, wrote 7 letters on his way to be martyred in Rome, addressed to his friend Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and to the churches in Rome, Ephesus, Tralles, Smyrna, Philadelphia, and Magnesia.  He appears to have died as a martyr around AD 110.  In each letter, he refers to himself as “Theophorus,” which translator Michael Holmes renders “Image-bearer” and others have rendered “God-bearer.”  Holmes argues that he is drawing on the image of pagan religious processions.

As Holmes’ introduction states, we don’t know why Ignatius was arrested, but he apparently escorted to Rome by 10 Roman soldiers.  His letters are often used as sources for the history of the Church in the early centuries.  Holmes writes that his three major concerns throughout the letters are the purity of doctrine against Judaism and Gnostic teachings; unity of the Church, especially under the bishops; and his coming martyrdom. Continue reading

Ignatius of Antioch writes to the Ephesians

I thought that these were some beautiful words from Ignatius to the Ephesians, describing their union to God in Christ and urging them to both pray for those outside the faith and model Christ for them:

But I have learned that certain people from elsewhere have passed your way with evil doctrine, but you did not allow them to sow it among you.  You covered up your ears in order to avoid receiving the things being sown by them, because you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith is what lifts you up, and love is the way that leads up to God.  So you are all participants together in a shared worship, God-bearers and temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holy things, adorned in every respect with the commandments of Jesus Christ.  I too celebrate with you, since I have been judged worthy to speak with you through this letter, and to rejoice with you because you love nothing in human life, only God.

Pray continually for the rest of humankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance.  Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds.  In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them.  Let use show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil may be found among you., but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus physically and spiritually. (Chapters 9 and 10)

Source: Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English

From the Didache: Prayer for after the Eucharist

The Didache (The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles), Chapter 10:

And after you have had enough, give thanks as follows:

We give you thanks, Holy Father,

for your holy name, which you have caused to dwell in our hearts,

and for the knowledge and faith and immortality that you have made known to us through Jesus your servant;

to you be the glory forever.

You, almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake,

and gave food and drink to humans to enjoy, so that they might give you thanks;

but to us you have graciously given spiritual food and drink,

and eternal life through your servant.

Above all we give thanks to you because you are mighty;

to you be the glory forever.

Remember your church, Lord, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love;

and from the four winds gather the church that has been sanctified into your kingdom,

which you have prepared for it;

for yours is the power and the glory forever.

May grace come, and may this world pass away.

Hosanna to the God of David.

If anyone is holy, let him come;

if anyone is not, let him repent.

Maranatha!  Amen.

But permit the prophets to give thanks however they wish.

Source: Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English

2 Clement: A call to repentance and holy living

While it’s traditionally called the “Second Letter of Clement,” Michael Holmes notes that it’s neither by Clement nor a letter.  2 Clement is actually a sermon or some other kind of address, the first complete Christian sermon outside of the New Testament.  The author and date are difficult to establish, although Holmes discusses some interesting theories.

2 Clement seems to be addressing baptized Christians (Holmes also notes another historian’s theory that it is addressed to catechumens), urging them to live in a manner that will please Christ and will ultimately result in a favorable judgment by him.  Here was one of the more striking exhortations:

For if we do the will of Christ, we will find rest; but if we do not – if we disobey his commandments – then nothing will save us from eternal punishment.  And the scripture also says in Ezekiel, “Even if Noah and Job and Daniel should rise up, they will not save their children” in their captivity.  Now if even such righteous men as these are not able, by means of their own righteous deeds, to save their children, what assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled?  Or who will be our advocate, if we are not found to have holy and righteous works? (2 Clement 6:7-9)

As an evangelical Protestant, I found this kind of language jarring at first.  Ligon Duncan also noted the importance of works in 2 Clement as opposed to the emphasis on the cross in this interview about patristics with Sovereign Grace Radio.  Duncan also noted that it shows that every generation of Christians has its strong and weak points.  It struck me as ultimately consistent with the New Testament’s insistence that believers in Christ will produce good fruit and will show their faith by their works.  There was a tone of looking for the glories that God had prepared for the righteous paired with a holy fear of “that day of judgment, when people will see those among us who have lived ungodly lives and perverted the commandments of Jesus Christ” (2 Clement 17:6). Continue reading

1 Clement on living as the body of Christ

1 Clement 38:1-4:

So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each of us be mutually subject to our neighbor, in proportion to each one’s spiritual gift.  The strong must not neglect the weak, and the weak must respect the strong.  Let the rich support the poor; and let the poor give thanks to God, because he has given him someone through whom his needs may be met.  Let the wise display wisdom not in words but in good works.  The humble person should not testify to his own humility, but leave it to someone else to testify about him.  Let the one who is physically pure remain so and not boast, recognizing that it is someone else who grants this self-control.  Let us acknowledge, brothers, from what matter we were made; who and what we were, when we came into the world; from what grave and what darkness the one who made and created us brought us into this world, having prepared his benefits for us before we were born.  Seeing, therefore, that we have all these things from him, we ought in every respect to give thanks to him, to whom be the glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Source: Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English

1 Clement on the centrality of Christ

1 Clement 36:1-2:

This is the way, dear friends, in which we found our salvation, namely Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings, the benefactor and helper of our weakness.  Through him we look steadily into the heights of heaven; through him we see as in a mirror his faultless and transcendent face; through him the eyes of our hearts have been opened; through him our foolish and darkened mind springs up into the light; through him the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge, for he, being the radiance of his majesty, is as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent.

Source: Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English

1 Clement: An exhortation to humility and unity

I’ve been reading Michael Holmes’ edition of the Apostolic Fathers, Christian documents from just after the New Testament period.

First Clement is a long epistle (about 30 pages) from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, apparently addressing a situation in which younger believers who had performed a sort of ecclesiastical coup and replaced the elders.  Clement, or the leaders of the Roman church as a group, urged the younger men to repent and obey their leaders.

Throughout the letter, I noticed some similarities to the book of Hebrews.  In fact, the ESV Study Bible’s introduction to Hebrews says that some have speculated that Clement was the author of Hebrews.  There were also many references to and quotations of the Old Testament, like a long quote from Isaiah 53 in Clement 16 and a long quote from Psalm 51 in Clement 18.

Throughout the letter, the main focus was on the unity of Christians and their obedience to the church authorities.  I’ll post two passages from the letter next.