Home
Authors
Titles
Keyword Search
Reference

Table of Contents

Previous Chapter


Essays on "Supernatural Religion"

by J. B. Lightfoot

 

III. THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES.


[FEBRUARY, 1875.]

The letters bearing the name of Ignatius [59:1], with which we are immediately concerned, profess to have been written by the saint as he was passing through Asia Minor on his way to martyrdom. If their representations be true, he was condemned at Antioch, and sent to Rome to stiffer death in the amphitheatre by exposure to the wild beasts. The exact year of the martyrdom is uncertain, but the limits of possibility are not very wide. The earlier date assigned is about A.D. 107, and the later about A.D. 116. These letters, with a single exception, are written to different Churches of Asia Minor (including one addressed more especially to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna). The exceptional letter is sent to the Roman Church, apprising the Christians of the metropolis that his arrival among them may soon be expected, declaring his eagerness for martyrdom, and intreating them not to interpose and rescue him from his fate. His language supposes that there were at this time members of the Roman Church sufficiently influential to obtain either a pardon or a commutation of his sentence. The letters to the Asiatic Churches have a more general reference. They contain exhortations, friendly greetings, warnings against internal divisions and against heretical doctrines. With some of these Churches he had been brought in personal contact; with others he was acquainted only through their delegates.

Of the three forms in which the Ignatian letters have been handed down to us, one may be dismissed from our consideration at once. The Long Recension, preserved both in the Greek original and in a Latin translation, may be regarded as universally condemned. In the early part of the last century an eccentric critic, whose Arian sympathies it seemed to favour, endeavoured to resuscitate its credit, and one or two others, at long intervals, have followed in his wake; but practically it may be regarded as dead. It abounds in anachronisms of fact or diction; its language diverges widely from the Ignatian quotations in the writers of the first five centuries. Our author places its date in the sixth century, with Ussher; I should myself ascribe it to the latter half of the fourth century. This however is a matter of little consequence. Only, before passing on, I would enter a protest against the argument of our author that, because the Ignatian letters were thus interpolated 'in the sixth century,' therefore 'this very fact increases the probability of much earlier interpolation also.' [60:1] I am unable to follow this reasoning. I venture to think that we cannot argue back from the sixth, or even the fourth century, to the second, that this later forgery must not be allowed to throw any shadow of suspicion on the earlier Ignatian letters; and that the question of a prior interpolation must be decided by independent evidence.

The two other forms of the Ignatian letters may be described briefly as follows:--

(1) The first comprises the seven letters which Eusebius had before him, and in the same form in which he read them--to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, SmyrnŠans, and Polycarp. It is true that other Epistles confessedly spurious are attached to them in the MSS; but these (as will appear presently) do not properly belong to this collection, and were added subsequently. This collection is preserved not only in the original Greek, but also in Latin and Armenian versions. Fragments also are extant of Coptic and Syriac versions, from which last, and not from the original Greek, the Armenian was translated. The discovery of these epistles, first of all by Ussher in the Latin translation, and then by Isaac Voss in the Greek original, about the middle of the seventeenth century, was the death-blow to the Long Recension. Ussher's dissertations had the honour of giving it the happy despatch. It is usual to call this recension, which thus superseded the other, the Short Greek; but this term is for obvious reasons objectionable, and I shall designate these Epistles the _Vossian._

(2) The second is extant only in a Syriac dress, and contains three of the Epistles alone--to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans--in a still shorter form. These Syriac Epistles were discovered among the Nitrian MSS in the British Museum, and published by Cureton in 1845. I shall therefore call these the _Curetonian_ Epistles.

Cureton's discovery stirred up the Ignatian dispute anew. It was soon fanned into flames by the controversy between Bunsen and Baur, and is raging still. The two questions are these: (1) Whether the Vossian or the Curetonian Epistles are prior in time; in other words, whether the Vossian Epistles were expanded from the Curetonian by interpolation, or whether the Curetonian were reduced from the Vossian by excision and abridgment; and (2) when this question has been disposed of, whether the prior of these two recensions can be regarded as genuine or not.

The question respecting the Ignatian letters has, from the nature of the case, never been discussed exclusively on its own merits. The pure light of criticism has been crossed by the shadows of controversial prepossession on both sides. From the era of the Reformation onward, the dispute between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism has darkened the investigation; in our own age the controversies respecting the Canon of Scripture and the early history of Christianity have interfered with equally injurious effects. Besides these two main questions which are affected by the Ignatian letters, other subjects indirectly involved have aided the strife and confusion. The antagonism between Papal and Protestant writers materially affected the discussion in the sixteenth century, and the antagonism between Arianism and Catholicity in the eighteenth. But the disturbing influence of these indirect questions, though not inconsiderable at the time, has not been lasting.

In the present paper I shall not attempt to treat of the Ignatian question as a whole. It will simply be my business to analyse the statements and discuss the arguments of the author of _Supernatural Religion_ relating to this subject. I propose, when I resume these papers again, to say something of the Apostolic Fathers in reference to early Christian belief and to the New Testament Canon; and this cannot be done with any effect until the way has been so far cleared as to indicate the extent to which we can employ the Ignatian letters as valid testimony.

The Ignatian question is the most perplexing which confronts the student of earlier Christian history. The literature is voluminous; the considerations involved are very wide, very varied, and very intricate. A writer therefore may well be pardoned if he betrays a want of familiarity with this subject. But in this case the reader naturally expects that the opinions at which he has arrived will be stated with some diffidence.

The author of _Supernatural Religion_ has no hesitation on the subject. 'The whole of the Ignatian literature,' he writes, 'is a mass of falsification and fraud.' [62:1] 'It is not possible,' he says, 'even if the Epistle [to the SmyrnŠans] were genuine, which it is not, to base any such conclusion upon these words.' [62:2] And again:--

'We must, however, go much further, and assert that none of the Epistles have any value as evidence for an earlier period than the end of the second, or beginning of the third, century, even if they possess any value at all.' [62:3]

And immediately afterwards:--

'We have just seen that the martyr-journey of Ignatius to Rome is, for cogent reasons, declared to be wholly fabulous, and the Epistles purporting to be written during that journey must be held to be spurious.' [63:1]

The reader is naturally led to think that a writer would not use such very decided language unless he had obtained a thorough mastery of his subject; and when he finds the notes thronged with references to the most recondite sources of information, he at once credits the author with an 'exhaustive' knowledge of the literature bearing upon it. It becomes important therefore to inquire whether the writer shows that accurate acquaintance with the subject, which justifies us in attaching weight to his dicta, as distinguished from his arguments.

I will take first of all a passage which sweeps the field of the Ignatian controversy, and therefore will serve well as a test. The author writes as follows:--

'The strongest internal, as well as other evidence, into which space forbids our going in detail, has led the majority of critics to recognise the Syriac Version as the most genuine form of the letters of Ignatius extant, and this is admitted by most [63:2] of those who nevertheless deny the authenticity of any of the Epistles.' [63:3]

No statement could be more erroneous, as a summary of the results of the Ignatian controversy since the publication of the Syriac Epistles, than this. Those who maintain the genuineness of the Ignatian Epistles, in one or other of the two forms, may be said to be almost evenly divided on this question of priority. While Cureton and Bunsen and Ritschl and Ewald and Weiss accept the Curetonian letters, Uhlhorn and Denzinger and Petermann and Hefele and Jacobson and Zahn still adhere to the Vossian. But this is a trifling error compared with what follows. The misstatement in the last clause of the sentence will, I venture to think, surprise anyone who is at all familiar with the literature of the Ignatian controversy. Those, who 'deny the authenticity of any of the Epistles,' almost universally maintain the priority of the Vossian Epistles, and regard the Curetonian as later excerpts. This is the case, for instance, with Baur [64:1], and Zeller [64:2] and Hilgenfeld [64:3] and Merx [64:4] and Scholten [64:5]. It was reserved for a critic like Volkmar [64:6] to entertain a different opinion; but, so far as I have observed, he stands alone among those who have paid any real attention to the Ignatian question. Indeed, it will be apparent that this position was forced upon critics of the negative school. If the Ignatian letters, in either form, are allowed to be genuine, the TŘbingen views of early Christian history fall to the ground. It was therefore a matter of life and death to this school to condemn them wholly. Now the seven Vossian Epistles are clearly very early [64:7]; and, if the Curetonian should be accepted as the progenitors of the Vossian, the date is pushed so far back that no sufficient ground remains for denying their genuineness. Hence, when Bunsen forced the question on the notice of his countrymen by advocating the Curetonian letters as the original work of Ignatius, Baur instinctively felt the gravity of the occasion, and at once took up the gauntlet. He condemned the Curetonian Epistles as mere excerpts from the Vossian; and in this he has been followed almost without exception by those who advocate his views of early Christian history. The case of Lipsius is especially instructive, as illustrating this point. Having at one time maintained the priority and genuineness of the Curetonian letters, he has lately, if I rightly understand him, retracted his former opinion on both questions alike [64:8].

But how has our author ventured to make this broad statement, when his own notes elsewhere contain references to nearly all the writers whom I have named as belonging to this last category, and even to the very passages in which they express the opposite opinion? To throw some light on this point, I will analyse the author's general statement of the course of opinion on this subject given in an earlier passage. He writes as follows:--

'These three Syriac Epistles have been subjected to the severest scrutiny, and many of the ablest critics have pronounced them to be the only authentic Epistles of Ignatius, whilst others, who do not admit that even these are genuine letters emanating from Ignatius, still prefer them to the version of seven Greek Epistles, and consider them the most ancient form of the letters which we possess (^1). As early as the sixteenth century however, the strongest doubts were expressed regarding the authenticity of any of the Epistles ascribed to Ignatius. The Magdeburg Centuriators first attacked them, and Calvin declared [p. 260] them to be spurious (^1), an opinion fully shared by Chemnitz, DallŠus, and others, and similar doubts, more or less definite, were expressed throughout the seventeenth century (^2), and onward to comparatively recent times (^3), although the means of forming a judgment were not then so complete as now. That the Epistles were interpolated there was no doubt. Fuller examination and more comprehensive knowledge of the subject have confirmed earlier doubts, and a large mass of critics recognise that the authenticity of none of these Epistles can be established, and that they can only be considered later and spurious compositions (^4).'

The first note (^1) on p. 259 is as follows:--

'Bunsen, _Ignatius v. Ant. u. s. Zeit_, 1847; _Die drei ńcht. u. d. vier unńcht. Br. des Ignat._, 1847; Bleek, _Einl. N.T._, p. 145; B÷hringer, _K.G. in Biograph._, 2 Aufl., p. 16; Cureton, _The Ancient Syriac Version of Eps. of St Ignatius, etc._, 1845; _VindiciŠ Ignat._, 1846, _Corpus Ignatianum_, 1849; Ewald, _Gesch. d. V. Isr._, vii. p. 313; Lipsius, _Aechtheit d. Syr. Recens. d. Ign. Br._ in _Illgen's Zeitschr. f. hist. Theol._, 1856, H. i., 1857, _Abhandl. d. deutsche-morgenl. Gesellschaft._ i. 5, 1859, p. 7; Milman, _Hist. of Chr._, ii. p. 102; Ritschl, _Entst. altk. Kirche_, p. 403, anm.; Weiss, _Reuter's Repertorium_, Sept. 1852.' [The rest of the note touches another point, and need not be quoted.]

These references, it will be observed, are given to illustrate more immediately, though perhaps not solely, the statement that writers 'who do not admit that even these [the Curetonian Epistles] are genuine letters emanating from Ignatius, still prefer them to the version of seven Greek Epistles, and consider them the most ancient form of the letters which we possess.' The reader therefore will hardly be prepared to hear that not one of these nine writers condemns the Ignatian letters as spurious. Bleek [66:1] alone leaves the matter in some uncertainty, while inclining to Bunsen's view; the other eight distinctly maintain the genuineness of the Curetonian letters [66:2].

As regards the names which follow in the text, it must be remembered that the Magdeburg Centuriators and Calvin wrote long before the discovery of the Vossian letters. The Ignatian Epistles therefore were weighted with all the anachronisms and impossibilities which condemn the Long Recension in the judgment of modern critics of all schools. The criticisms of Calvin more especially refer chiefly to those passages which are found in the Long Recension alone. The clause which follows contains a direct misstatement. Chemnitz did not fully share the opinion that they were spurious; on the contrary he quotes them several times as authoritative; but he says that they 'seem to have been altered in many places to strengthen the position of the Papal power etc.' [66:3]

The note (^2) on p. 260 runs as follows:--

'By Bochartus, Aubertin, Blondel, Basnage, Casaubon, Cocus, Humfrey, Rivetus, Salmasius, Socinus (Faustus), Parker, Petau, etc., etc.; of. Jacobson, _Patr. Apost._, i. p. xxv; Cureton, _VindiciŠ IgnatianŠ_, 1846, appendix.'

Here neither alphabetical nor chronological order is observed. Nor is it easy to see why an Englishman R. Cook, Vicar of Leeds, should be Cocus, while a foreigner, Petavius, is Petau. These however are small matters. It is of more consequence to observe that the author has here mixed up together writers who lived before and after the discovery of the Vossian Epistles, though this is the really critical epoch in the history of the Ignatian controversy. But the most important point of all is the purpose for which they are quoted. 'Similar doubts' could only, I think, be interpreted from the context as doubts 'regarding the authenticity of any of the Epistles ascribed to Ignatius.' The facts however are these [67:1]. Bochart condemns the Ignatian Epistle to the Romans on account of the mention of 'leopards,' of which I shall speak hereafter, but says nothing about the rest, though probably he would have condemned them also. Aubertin, Blondel, Basnage, R. Parker, and Saumaise, reject all. Humfrey (1584) considers that they have been interpolated and mutilated, but he believes them genuine in the main. Cook (1614) pronounces them 'either supposititious or shamefully corrupted.' F. Socinus (A.D. 1624) denounces corruptions and anachronisms, but so far as I can see, does not question a nucleus of genuine matter. Casaubon (A.D. 1615), so far from rejecting them altogether, promises to defend the antiquity of some of the Epistles with new arguments. Rivet explains that Calvin's objections apply not to Ignatius himself but to the corrupters of Ignatius, and himself accepts the Vossian Epistles as genuine [67:2]. Petau, before the discovery of the Vossian letters, had expressed the opinion that there were interpolations in the then known Epistles, and afterwards on reading the Vossian letters, declared it to be a _prudens et justa suspicio_ that these are the genuine work of Ignatius.

The next note (^3) p. 260 is as follows:--

[Wotton, _PrŠf. Clem. R. Epp._, 1718]; J. Owen, _Enquiry into original nature, etc., Evang. Church: Works_, ed. Russel, 1826, vol. xx, p. 147; Oudin, _Comm. de Script. Eccles. etc._ 1722, p. 88; Lampe, _Comm. analyt. ex Evang. Joan._, 1724, i. p. 184; Lardner, _Credibility, etc., Works_, ii. p. 68 f.; Beausobre, _Hist. Crit. de ManichÚe, etc._, 1734, i. p. 378, note 3; Ernesti, _N. Theol. Biblioth._, 1761, ii. p. 489; [Mosheim, _de Rebus Christ._, p. 159 f.]; Weismann, _Introd. in Memorab. Eccles._, 1745, p. 137; Heumann, _Conspect. Reipub. Lit._, 1763, p. 492; Schroeckh, _Chr. Kirchengesch._, 1775, ii. p. 341; Griesbach, _Opuscula Academ._, 1824, i. p. 26; RosenmŘller, _Hist. Interpr. Libr. Sacr. in Eccles._, 1795, i. p. 116; Semler, _Paraphr. in Epist. ii. Petri_, 1784, PrŠf.; Kestner, _Comm. de. Eusebii H.E. condit._, 1816, p. 63; Henke, _Allg. Gesch. chr. Kirche_, 1818, i. p. 96; Neander, _K.G._ 1843, ii. p. 1140 [cf. i. p. 357, anm. 1]; Baumgarten-Crusius. _Lehrb. chr. Dogmengesch._, 1832, p. 83, cf. _Comp. chr. Dogmengesch._, 1840, p. 79; [_Niedner, Gesch. chr. K._, p. 196; Thiersch, _Die K. im ap. Zeit_, p. 322; Hagenbach, _K.G._, i. p. 115 f.]; cf. Cureton, _Vind. Ign. append._; Ziegler, _Versuch ein. prag. Gesch. d. kirchl. Verfassungs-formen_, u.s.w., 1798, p. 16; J.E.C. Schmidt, _Versuch Řb. d. gedopp. Recens. d. Br. S. Ignat._ in _Henke's Mag. f. Rel. Phil._, u.s.w. [1795; cf. _Biblioth. f. Krit._, u.s.w., _N.T._, i. p. 463 ff., _Urspr. kath. Kirche_, II. i. p. I f.]; _H'buch Chr. K.G._, i. p. 200.

The brackets are not the author's, but my own.

This is doubtless one of those exhibitions of learning which have made such a deep impression on the reviewers. Certainly, as it stands, this note suggests a thorough acquaintance with all the by-paths of the Ignatian literature, and seems to represent the gleanings of many years' reading. It is important to observe however, that every one of these references, except those which I have included in brackets, is given in the appendix to Cureton's _VindiciŠ IgnatianŠ_, where the passages are quoted in full. Thus two-thirds of this elaborate note might have been compiled in ten minutes. Our author has here and there transposed the order of the quotations, and confused it by so doing, for it is chronological in Cureton. But what purpose was served by thus importing into his notes a mass of borrowed and unsorted references? And, if he thought fit to do so, why was the key-reference to Cureton buried among the rest, so that it stands in immediate connection with some additional references on which it has no bearing?

Moreover, several of the writers mentioned in this note express opinions directly opposed to that for which they are quoted. Wotton, for instance [69:1], defends the genuineness of the Vossian Epistles very decidedly, and at some length, against Whiston, whose Arianism led him to prefer the Long Recension. Weismann declares that 'the authenticity and genuineness of the Epistles have been demonstrated clearly and solidly' by Pearson and others, so that no valid objections remain affecting the main question. Thiersch again, who wrote after the publication of Cureton's work, uses the three Syriac Epistles as genuine, his only doubt being whether he ought not to accept the Vossian Epistles and to regard the Curetonian as excerpts. Of the rest a considerable number, as for instance, Lardner, Beausobre, Schroeckh, Griesbach, Kestner, Neander, and Baumgarten-Crusius, with different degrees of certainty or uncertainty, pronounce themselves in favour of a genuine nucleus [69:2].

The next note (^4), which I need not quote in full, is almost as unfortunate. References to twenty authorities are there given, as belonging to the 'large mass of critics' who recognise that the Ignatian Epistles 'can only be considered later and spurious compositions.' Of these Bleek (already cited in a previous note) expresses no definite opinion. Gfr÷rer declares that the substratum (_Grundlage_) of the seven Epistles is genuine, though 'it appears as if later hands had introduced interpolations into both recensions' (he is speaking of the Long Recension and the Vossian). Harless avows that he must 'decidedly reject with the most considerable critics of older and more recent times' the opinion maintained by certain persons that the Epistles are 'altogether spurious,' and proceeds to treat a passage as genuine because it stands in the Vossian letters as well as in the Long Recension [70:1]. Schliemann also says that 'the external testimonies oblige him to recognise a genuine substratum,' though he is not satisfied with either existing recension. All these critics, it should be observed, wrote before the discovery of the Curetonian letters. Of the others, Hase commits himself to no opinion; and Lechler, while stating that the seven Epistles left on his mind an impression unfavourable to their genuineness, and inclining to Baur's view that the Curetonian letters are excerpts from the others, nevertheless adds, that he cannot boast of having arrived at a decided conviction of the spuriousness of the Ignatian letters. One or two of the remaining references in this note I have been unable to verify; but, judging from the names, I should expect that the rest would be found good for the purpose for which they are quoted by our author.

I am sorry to have delayed my readers with an investigation which--if I may venture to adopt a phrase, for which I am not myself responsible--'scarcely rises above the correction of an exercise.' [70:2] But these notes form a very appreciable and imposing part of the work, and their effect on its reception has been far from inconsiderable, as the language of the reviewers will show. It was therefore important to take a sample and test its value. I trust that I may be spared the necessity of a future investigation of the same kind. If it has wearied my readers, it has necessarily been tenfold more irksome to myself. Ordinary errors, such as must occur in any writer, might well have been passed over; but the character of the notes in _Supernatural Religion_ is quite unique, so far as my experience goes, in works of any critical pretensions.

In the remainder of the discussion our author seems to depend almost entirely on Cureton's preface to his _Ancient Syriac Version_, to which indeed he makes due acknowledgment from time to time. Notwithstanding the references to other later writers which crowd the notes already mentioned, they appear (with the single exception of Volkmar) to have exercised no influence on his discussion of the main question. One highly important omission is significant. There is no mention, from first to last, of the Armenian version. Now it happens that this version (so far as regards the documentary evidence) has been felt to be the key to the position, and around it the battle has raged fiercely since its publication. One who (like our author) maintains the priority of the Curetonian letters, was especially bound to give it some consideration, for it furnishes the most formidable argument to his opponents. This version was given to the world by Petermann in 1849, the same year in which Cureton's later work, the _Corpus Ignatianum_, appeared, and therefore was unknown to him [71:1]. Its bearing occupies a more or less prominent place in all, or nearly all, the writers who have specially discussed the Ignatian question during the last quarter of a century. This is true of Lipsius and Weiss and Hilgenfeld and Uhlhorn, whom he cites, not less than of Merx and Denzinger and Zahn, whom he neglects to cite. The facts established by Petermann and others are these;--(1) This Armenian Version, which contains the seven Vossian Epistles together with other confessedly spurious letters, was translated from a previous Syriac version. Indeed fragments of this version were published by Cureton himself, as a sort of appendix to the Curetonian letters, in the _Corpus Ignatianum_, though he failed to see their significance. (2) This Syriac Version conformed so closely to the Syriac of the Curetonian letters that they cannot have been independent. Either therefore the Curetonian letters were excerpts from this complete version, or this version was founded upon and enlarged from the pre-existing Curetonian letters by translating and adding the supplementary letters and parts of letters from the Greek. The former may be the right solution, but the latter is _a priori_ more probable; and therefore a discussion which, while assuming the priority of the Curetonian letters, ignores this version altogether, has omitted a vital problem of which it was bound to give an account.

I have no wish to depreciate the labours of Cureton. Whether his own view be ultimately adopted as correct or not, he has rendered inestimable service to the Ignatian literature. But our author has followed him in his most untenable positions, which those who have since studied the subject, whether agreeing with Cureton on the main question or not, have been obliged to abandon. Thus he writes:--

'Seven Epistles have been selected out of fifteen extant, all equally purporting to be by Ignatius, simply because only that number were mentioned by Eusebius.' [72:1]

And again:--

'It is a total mistake to suppose that the seven Epistles mentioned by Eusebius have been transmitted to us in any special way. These Epistles are mixed up in the Medicean and corresponding ancient Latin MSS with the other eight Epistles, universally pronounced to be spurious, without distinction of any kind, and all have equal honour.' [72:2]

with more to the same effect.

This attempt to confound the seven Epistles mentioned by Eusebius with the other confessedly spurious Epistles, as if they presented themselves to us with the same credentials, ignores all the important facts bearing on the question. (1) Theodoret, a century after Eusebius, betrays no knowledge of any other Epistles, and there is no distinct trace of the use of the confessedly spurious Epistles till late in the sixth century at the earliest. (2) The confessedly spurious Epistles differ widely in style from the seven Epistles, and betray the same hand which interpolated the seven Epistles. In other words, they clearly formed part of the Long Recension in the first instance. (3) They abound in anachronisms which point to an age later than Eusebius, as the date of their composition. (4) It is not strictly true that the seven Epistles are mixed up with the confessedly spurious Epistles. In the Greek and Latin MSS as also in the Armenian version, the spurious Epistles come after the others [73:1]; and this circumstance, combined with the facts already mentioned, plainly shows that they were a later addition, borrowed from the Long Recension to complete the body of Ignatian letters.

Indeed our author seems hardly able to touch this question at any point without being betrayed into some statement which is either erroneous or misleading. Thus, summing up the external evidence, he writes:--

'It is a fact, therefore, that up to the second half of the fourth century no quotation ascribed to Ignatius, except one by Eusebius, exists, which is not found in the three short Syriac letters.' [73:2]

In this short statement three corrections are necessary. (1) Our author has altogether overlooked one quotation in Eusebius from _Ephes._ 19, because it happens not to be in the Ecclesiastical History, though it is given in Cureton's _Corpus Ignatianum_ [73:3]. (2) Of the two quotations in the Ecclesiastical History, the one which he here reckons as found in the Syriac Epistles is not found in those Epistles in the form in which Eusebius quotes it. The quotation in Eusebius contains several words which appear in the Vossian Epistles, but not in the Curetonian; and as the absence of these words produces one of those abruptnesses which are characteristic of the Curetonian letters, the fact is really important for the question under discussion [73:4]. (3) Though Eusebius only directly quotes two passages in his Ecclesiastical History, yet he gives a number of particulars respecting the places of writing, the persons named, etc., which are more valuable for purposes of identification than many quotations.

Our author's misstatement however does not in this instance affect the main question under discussion. The fact remains true, when all these corrections are made, that the quotations in the second and third centuries are confined to passages which occur both in the Curetonian and in the Vossian Epistles, and therefore afford no indication in favour of either recension as against the other. The testimony of Eusebius in the fourth century first differentiates them.

Hitherto our author has not adduced any arguments which affect the genuineness of the Ignatian Epistles as a whole. His reasons, even on his own showing, are valid only so far as to give a preference to the Curetonian letters as against the Vossian. When therefore he declares the whole of the Ignatian literature to be 'a mass of falsification and fraud,' [74:1] we are naturally led to inquire into the grounds on which he makes this very confident and sweeping assertion. These grounds we find to be twofold.

(1) In the first place he conceives the incidents, as represented in the Epistles, to be altogether incredible. Thus he says [74:2]:--

'The writer describes the circumstances of his journey as follows:--"From Syria even unto Rome I fight with wild beasts, by sea and by land, by night and day; being bound amongst ten leopards, which are the band of soldiers: who even when good is done to them render evil." Now if this account be in the least degree true, how is it possible to suppose that the martyr could have found means to write so many long epistles, entering minutely into dogmatic teaching, and expressing the most deliberate and advanced views regarding ecclesiastical government?'

And again:--

'It is impossible to suppose that soldiers such as the quotation above describes would allow a prisoner, condemned to wild beasts for professing Christianity, deliberately to write long epistles at every stage of his journey, promulgating the very doctrines for which he was condemned. And not only this, but on his way to martyrdom, he has, according to the epistles, perfect freedom to see his friends. He receives the bishops, deacons, and members of various Christian communities, who come with greetings to him, and devoted followers accompany him on his journey. All this without hindrance from the "ten leopards," of whose cruelty he complains, and without persecution or harm to those who so openly declare themselves his friends and fellow-believers. The whole story is absolutely incredible.'

To this objection, plausible as it may appear at first sight, a complete answer is afforded by what is known of Roman procedure in other cases [75:1]. As a matter of fact, Christian prisoners during the early centuries were not uncommonly treated by the authorities with this same laxity and indulgence which is here accorded to Ignatius. An excited populace or a stern magistrate might insist on the condemnation of a Christian; a victim must be sacrificed to the wrath of the gods, or to the majesty of the law; a human life must be 'butcher'd to make a Roman holiday;' but the treatment of the prisoners meanwhile, even after condemnation, was, except in rare instances, the reverse of harsh. St Paul himself preaches the Gospel apparently with almost as much effect through the long years of his imprisonment as when he was at large. During his voyage he moves about like the rest of his fellow-travellers; when he arrives at Rome, he is still treated with great consideration. He writes letters freely, receives visits from his friends, communicates with churches and individuals as he desires, though the chain is on his wrist and the soldier at his side all the while. Even at a much later date, when the growth of the Christian Church may have created an alarm among statesmen and magistrates which certainly cannot have existed in the age of Ignatius, we see the same leniency of treatment, and (what is more important) the same opportunities of disseminating their opinions accorded to the prisoners. Thus Saturus and Perpetua, the African martyrs, who suffered under Severus [76:1] (apparently in the year 202 or 203), are allowed writing materials, with which they record the extant history of their sufferings; and they too are visited in prison by Christian deacons, as well as by their own friends. They owed this liberty partly to the humanity of the chief officers; partly to gratuities bestowed by their friends on the gaolers [76:2]. Even after the lapse of another half-century, when Decius seriously contemplated the extermination of Christianity, we are surprised to find the amount of communication still kept up with the prisoners in their dungeons. The Cyprianic correspondence reveals to us the confessors and martyrs writing letters to their friends, visited by large numbers of people, even receiving the rites of the Church in their prisons at the hands of Christian priests.

But the most powerful testimony is derived from the representations of a heathen writer. The Christian career of Peregrinus must have fallen within the reign of Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161). Thus it is not very far removed, in point of time, from the age of Ignatius. This Peregrinus is represented by Lucian, writing immediately after his death (A.D. 165), as being incarcerated for his profession of Christianity, and the satirist thus describes the prison scene [76:3]:--

'When he was imprisoned, the Christians, regarding it as a great calamity, left no stone unturned in the attempt to rescue him. Then, when they found this impossible, they looked after his wants in every other respect with unremitting zeal ([Greek: ou parerg˘s alla sun spoudŕ]). And from early dawn old women, widows, and orphan children, might be seen waiting about the doors of the prison; while their officers ([Greek: hoi en telei aut˘n]) succeeded, by bribing the keepers, in passing the night inside with him. Then various meals were brought in, and religious discourses were held between them, and this excellent Peregrinus (for he still bore this name) was entitled a new Socrates by them. Moreover, there came from certain cities in Asia deputies sent by the Christian communities to assist and advise and console the man. Indeed they show incredible despatch, when any matter of the kind is undertaken as a public concern; for, in short, they spare nothing. And so large sums of money came to Peregrinus at that time from them, on the plea of his fetters, and he made no inconsiderable revenue out of it.'

The singular correspondence in this narrative with the account of Ignatius, combined with some striking coincidences of expression [77:1], have led to the opinion that Lucian was acquainted with the Ignatian history, if not with the Ignatian letters. For this view there is much to be said; and, if it be true, the bearing of the fact on the genuineness of the Ignatian literature is important, since Lucian was born in Syria somewhere about A.D. 120, and lived much in Asia Minor. At all events it is conclusive for the matter in hand, as showing that Christian prisoners were treated in the very way described in these epistles. The reception of delegates and the freedom of correspondence, which have been the chief stumbling-blocks to modern criticism in the Ignatian letters, appear quite as prominently in the heathen satirist's account of Peregrinus [77:2].

In the light of these facts the language of Ignatius becomes quite intelligible. He was placed under the custody of a maniple of soldiers. These ten men would relieve guard in turns, the prisoner being always bound to one or other of them day and night, according to the well-known Roman usage, as illustrated by the case of St Paul. The martyr finds his guards fierce and intractable as leopards. His fight with wild beasts, he intimates, is not confined to the arena of the Flavian amphitheatre; it has been going on continuously ever since he left Antioch. His friends manage to secure him indulgences by offering bribes, but the soldiers are exorbitant and irritating in the extreme [78:1]. The more they receive, the more they exact. Their demands keep pace with his exigencies. All this is natural, and it fully explains the language here ascribed to Ignatius. A prisoner smarting under such treatment naturally dwells on the dark side of the picture, without thinking how a critic, writing in his study centuries afterwards, will interpret his fragmentary and impulsive utterances. In short, we must treat Ignatius as a man, and not as an automaton. Men will not talk mechanically, as critics would have them talk.

(2) Having declared 'the whole story' to be 'absolutely incredible,' on the grounds which I have just considered, our author continues [78:2]:--

'This conclusion, irresistible in itself, is, however, confirmed by facts arrived at from a totally different point of view. It has been demonstrated that Ignatius was not sent to Rome at all, but suffered martyrdom in Antioch itself on the 20th December, A.D. 115 (^3), when he was condemned to be cast to wild beasts in the amphitheatre, in consequence of the fanatical excitement produced by the earthquake which took place on the 13th of that month (^4).'

The two foot-notes contain no justification of this very positive statement, though so much depends upon it; but the reader is there furnished with a number of references to modern critics. These references have been analysed by Dr Westcott [79:1], with results very similar to those which my analysis of the author's previous notes has yielded. In some cases the writers express opinions directly opposed to that for which they are quoted; in others they incline to views irreconcilable with it; and in others they suspend judgment. When the references are sifted, the sole residuum on which our author rests his assurance is found to be a hypothesis of Volkmar [79:2], built upon a statement of John Malalas, which I shall now proceed to examine. The words of John Malalas are--

'The same king Trajan was residing in the same city (Antioch) when the visitation of God (_i.e._ the earthquake) occurred. And at that time the holy Ignatius, the bishop of the city of Antioch, was martyred (or bore testimony, [Greek: emarturŕse]) before him ([Greek: epi autou]); for he was exasperated against him, because he reviled him.' [79:3]

The earthquake is stated by Malalas to have occurred on the 13th of December, A.D. 115. On these statements, combined with the fact that the day dedicated to St Ignatius at a later age was the 20th of December [79:4], Volkmar builds his theory. It will be observed that the cause of the martyr's death, as laid down by Volkmar, receives no countenance from the story of Malalas, who gives a wholly different reason--the irritating language used to the emperor.

Now this John Malalas lived not earlier than the latter half of the sixth century, and possibly much later. His date therefore constitutes no claim to a hearing. His statement moreover is directly opposed to the concurrent testimony of the four or five preceding centuries, which, without a dissentient voice, declare that Ignatius suffered at Rome. This is the case with all the writers and interpolators of the Ignatian letters, of whom the earliest is generally placed, even by those critics who deny their genuineness, about the middle or in the latter half of the second century. It is the case with two distinct martyrologies [80:1], which, agreeing in little else, are united in sending the martyr to Rome to die. It is the case necessarily with all those Fathers who quote the Ignatian letters in any form as genuine, amongst whom are IrenŠus and Origen and Eusebius and Athanasius. It is the case with Chrysostom, who, on the day of the martyr's festival, pronounces at Antioch an elaborate panegyric on his illustrious predecessor in the see [80:2]. It is the case with several other writers also, whom I need not enumerate, all prior to Malalas.

But John Malalas, it is said, lived at Antioch. So did Chrysostom some two centuries at least before him. So did Evagrius, who, if the earliest date of Malalas be adopted, was his contemporary, and who, together with all preceding authorities, places the martyrdom of Ignatius in Rome. If therefore the testimony of Malalas deserves to be preferred to this cloud of witnesses, it must be because he approves himself elsewhere as a sober and trustworthy writer.

As a matter of fact however, his notices of early Christian history are, almost without exception, demonstrably false or palpably fabulous [80:3]. In the very paragraph which succeeds the sentence quoted, he relates how Trajan had five Christian women burnt alive; the emperor then mingled their ashes with the metal from which the vessels used for the baths were cast; the bathers were seized with swooning-fits in consequence; the vessels were again melted up; and out of the same metal were erected five pillars in honour of the five martyrs by the emperor's orders. These pillars, adds Malalas, stand in the bath to the present day. As if this were not enough, he goes on to relate how Trajan made a furnace and ordered any Christians, who desired, to throw themselves into it--an injunction which was obeyed by many. Nor when he leaves the domain of hagiology for that of chronology, is this author any more trustworthy. For instance, he states that Manes first propounded his doctrine in the reign of Nerva, and that Marcion still further disseminated the Manichean heresy under Hadrian [81:1]. An anachronism of a century or more is nothing to him.

We have seen by this time what authority suffices, in our author's judgment, to 'demonstrate' a fact; and no more is necessary for my purpose. But it may be worth while adding that the error of Malalas is capable of easy explanation. He has probably misinterpreted some earlier authority, whose language lent itself to misinterpretation. The words [Greek: marturein, marturia], which were afterwards used especially of martyrdom, had in the earlier ages a wider sense, including other modes of witnessing to the faith: the expression [Greek: epi Tra´anou] again is ambiguous and might denote either 'during the reign of Trajan,' or 'in the presence of Trajan.' A blundering writer like Malalas might have stumbled over either expression [81:2].

The objections of our author have thus been met and answered; and difficulties which admit of this easy explanation cannot, I venture to think, be held to have any real weight against even a small amount of external testimony in favour of the Epistles. The external testimony however is considerable in this case [81:3]. The Epistle of Polycarp, which purports to have been written so soon after this journey of Ignatius through Asia Minor that the circumstances of the martyr's death were not fully known there, speaks of his letters in language which is entirely applicable to the existing documents. Our author indeed declares this Epistle also to be spurious. But IrenŠus, the pupil of Polycarp, bears testimony to the existence of such an Epistle; and I pledge myself to answer in a subsequent paper the objections urged against its genuineness by our author and others [82:1]. Besides this, IrenŠus, writing about A.D. 180-190, quotes a characteristic and distinctive passage from the Epistle to the Romans, not indeed mentioning Ignatius by name, but introducing the quotation as the words of a member of the Christian brotherhood. And again, in the first half of the next century Origen cites two passages from these letters, ascribing them directly to Ignatius. I say nothing of the later and more explicit references and quotations of Eusebius, important as these are in themselves. Our author indeed seems to consider this amount of testimony very insufficient. But even if we set Polycarp aside, it would hardly be rash to say that the external evidence for at least two-thirds of the remains of classical antiquity is inferior. We Christians are constantly told that we must expect to have our records tested by the same standards which are applied to other writings. This is exactly what we desire, and what we do not get. It is not easy to imagine the havoc which would ensue, if the critical principles of the TŘbingen school and their admirers were let loose on the classical literature of Greece and Rome.

External testimony therefore leaves a very strong presumption in favour of the genuineness of the Ignatian letters in one form or other; and before rejecting them entirely, we are bound to show that internal evidence furnishes really substantial and valid objections to their authenticity. It is not sufficient, for instance, to allege that the saint's desire for martyrdom, as exhibited in these Epistles, is extravagant, because we have ample testimony for believing that such extravagance (whether commendable or not) was highly characteristic of the faith and zeal of the early Christians when tried by persecution. Nor again, is it of any avail to produce some eccentricities of thought or language, because there is no _a priori_ reason why St Ignatius should not have indulged in such eccentricities.

Unless therefore really solid objections can be urged, we are bound by all ordinary laws of literary evidence to accept as genuine at all events the shortest form in which these Epistles are presented to us. In other words, the Curetonian letters at least must be received. And as these satisfy all the quotations and references of the second and third centuries (though not those of Eusebius in the first half of the fourth), perhaps not more is required by the external testimony. Against the genuineness of these it may be presumed that our author has advanced what he considered the strongest arguments which the case admits; and I have answered them. I am quite aware that other objections have been alleged by other critics; but it will be sufficient here to express a conviction that these have no real force against even the slightest external testimony, and to undertake to meet them if they are reproduced. Thus all the supposed anachronisms have failed. Bochart, for instance, was bold enough to maintain that the Ignatian Epistle to the Romans could not have been written before the time of Constantine the Great, because 'leopards' are mentioned in it, and the word was not known until this late age. In reply to Bochart, Pearson and others showed conclusively, by appealing (among other documents) to the contemporary Acts of Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (who suffered when Geta was CŠsar, about A.D. 202), that 'leopards' were so called more than a century at least before Constantine, while they gave good reasons for believing that the word was in use much earlier. I am able to carry the direct evidence half a century farther back. The word occurs in an early treatise of Galen (written about the middle of the second century), without any indication that it was then a new or unusual term. This passage, which (so far as I am aware) has been hitherto overlooked, carries the use back to within some forty years, or less, of the professed date of the Ignatian letters; and it must be regarded as a mere accident that no earlier occurrence has been noticed in the scanty remains of Greek and Roman literature which bridge over the interval. Of the institution of episcopacy again, it is sufficient to say that its prevalence in Asia Minor at this time, whatever may have been the case elsewhere, can only be denied by rejecting a large amount of direct and indirect evidence on this side of the question, and by substituting in its place a mere hypothesis which rests on no basis of historical fact.

On the other hand, the Epistles themselves are stamped with an individuality of character which is a strong testimony to their genuineness. The intensity of feeling and the ruggedness of expression seem to bespeak a real living man. On this point however it is impossible to dwell here; anyone who will take the pains to read these Epistles continuously will be in a better position to form a judgment on this evidence of style, than if he had been plied with many arguments.

But if the Curetonian letters are the genuine work of Ignatius, what must we say of the Vossian? Were the additional portions, which are contained in the latter but wanting in the former, also written by the saint, or are they later interpolations and additions? This is a much more difficult question.

As a first step towards answering this question, we may observe that there is one very strong reason for believing that the Vossian letters cannot have been written after the middle of the second century. The argument from silence has been so often abused, that one is almost afraid to employ it at all. Yet here it seems to have a real value. The writer of these letters, whoever he was, is evidently an orthodox Catholic Christian, and at the same time a strong controversialist. It is therefore a striking fact that he is altogether silent on the main controversies which agitated the Church, and more especially the Church of Asia Minor, in the middle and latter half of the second century. There is not a word about Montanism or about the Paschal controversy. It is difficult to believe that such a writer could have kept clear of these 'burning' questions, if he had lived in the midst of them. Even though his sense of historical propriety might have preserved him from language involving a positive anachronism, he would have taken a distinct side, and would have made his meaning clear by indirect means. Again, there is nothing at all bearing on the great Gnostic heresies of this age. The doctrines of the Marcionites, of the Valentinians, even of the Basilideans (though Basilides flourished under Hadrian), are not touched. On the contrary, the writer several times uses language which an orthodox churchman, writing in the second half of the second century or later, would almost certainly have avoided. Among other expressions he salutes the Church of the Trallians 'in the _pleroma_'--an expression which could not escape the taint of heresy when once Valentinus had promulgated his system, of which the pleroma was the centre. Nor again, is it likely that such a writer would have indulged in expressions which, however innocent in themselves, would seem very distinctly to countenance the Gnostic doctrine of the inherent evil of matter, as for instance, where he says that he has not in him any 'matter-loving ([Greek: philoŘlon]) fire (of passion),' [85:1] and the like. The bearing of these facts has (so far as I remember) been overlooked, and yet it is highly important.

Having regard to these and similar phenomena, I do not see how it is reasonable to date the Vossian Epistles after the middle of the second century. But still it does not follow that they are genuine; and elsewhere I had acquiesced in the earlier opinion of Lipsius, who ascribed them to an interpolator writing about A.D. 140 [85:2]. Now however I am obliged to confess that I have grave and increasing doubts whether, after all, they are not the genuine utterances of Ignatius himself. The following reasons weigh heavily in this scale. (1) Petermann's investigations, which have been already mentioned, respecting the Armenian version and its relation to a pre-existing Syriac version, throw a new light on the Curetonian letters. When it is known that there existed a complete version of the Vossian letters in this language, the theory that the Curetonian letters are excerpts becomes at least highly plausible, since the two sets of Syriac letters were certainly not independent the one of the other. (2) Notwithstanding Cureton's assertions, which our author has endorsed, the abruptness of the Curetonian letters is very perplexing in some parts. Subsequent writers, even while maintaining their genuineness, have recognised this difficulty, and endeavoured to explain it. It is far from easy, for instance, to conceive that the Ephesian letter could have ended as it is made to end in this recension. (3) Though the Vossian letters introduce many historical circumstances respecting the journey of Ignatius, the condition of the Church of Antioch, and the persons visiting or visited by him, no contradictions have yet been made out; but, on the contrary, the several notices fit in one with another in a way which at all events shows more care and ingenuity than might be expected in a falsifier. (4) All the supposed anachronisms to which objection has been taken in these Epistles fail on closer investigation. More especially stress has been laid on the fact that this writer describes Christ as God's 'eternal Logos, not having proceeded from Silence;' [86:1] and objectors, have urged that this expression is intended as a refutation of the Valentinian doctrine. Pearson thought it sufficient to reply that the Valentinians did not represent the Logos as an emanation from Silence, but from an intermediate Ăon; and when the treatise of Hippolytus was discovered, an answer seemed to be furnished by the fact that Silence held a conspicuous place in the tenets of the earlier sect of Simonians, and the Ignatian expression was explained as a reference to their teaching. But fresh materials for the correction of the Ignatian text, which Cureton and Petermann have placed in our hands, seem to show very clearly (though these editors have overlooked the importance of the facts) that in the original form of the passage the words 'eternal' and 'not' were wanting; so that the expression stood, 'Who is His Logos, having proceeded from Silence.' They are omitted in the Armenian version and in the passage as cited by Severus of Antioch [87:1]; while the paraphrase of the Long Recension seems to point in the same direction, though this is more doubtful. Severus more especially comments on the quotation, so that his reading is absolutely certain. Such a combination of early authorities is very strong evidence in favour of the omission. Moreover it is difficult to explain how the words, if genuine, should have been omitted; whereas their insertion, if they were no part of the original text, is easily accounted for. In the middle of the fourth century, Marcellus of Ancyra expressed his Sabellianism in almost identical language [87:2]; he spoke of Christ as the Logos issuing from Silence; and there was every temptation with orthodox scribes to save the reputation of St Ignatius from complicity in heretical opinions, and at the same time to deprive Marcellus of the support of his great name. I call attention to these facts, both because they have been overlooked, and because the passage in question has furnished their main argument to those who charge these Epistles with anachronisms.

Of the character of these Epistles, it must suffice here to say that the writer at all events was thoroughly acquainted with the manner and teaching of St Ignatius. As regards the substance, they contain many extravagances of sentiment and teaching, more especially relating to the episcopal office, from which the Curetonian letters are free and which one would not willingly believe written by the saint himself. But it remains a question, whether such considerations ought to outweigh the arguments on the other side. At all events it cannot be shown that they exhibit any different type of doctrine, though the mode of representation may seem exaggerated. As regards style, the Curetonian letters are more rugged and forcible than the Vossian; but as selected excerpts, they might perhaps be expected to exhibit these features prominently.

For the reasons given I shall, unless I am shown to be wrong, treat the Curetonian letters as the work of the genuine Ignatius, while the Vossian letters will be accepted as valid testimony at all events for the middle of the second century. The question of the genuineness of the latter will be waived. I fear that my indecision on this point will contrast disadvantageously with the certainty which is expressed by the author of _Supernatural Religion_. If so, I am sorry, but I cannot help it.

 


The Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright ©2001.

Next Chapter

Table of Contents

Home
Authors
Titles
Keyword Search
Reference