Monday, July 8, 2019

Hort's Lecture on Ignatius and Polycarp

Fenton John Anthony Hort
In 1890, Fenton John Anthony Hort (half of the Westcott-Hort duo) delivered a series of six lectures on ante-Nicene fathers.  They were published in 1895, a few years after his death.  What follows here, with slight adjustments, is the second lecture in the series.


            Last week we had for our subject the two earliest Christian Fathers belonging to the Roman Church, Clement of Rome the writer of the Epistle sent by the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, and Hermas the writer of the book of Visions, Commandments, and Parables which takes the name ‘The Shepherd’ from the prominent part played in it by the Angel of Repentance, who appeared to Hermas in the guise of a shepherd. Today we proceed to the others of the Fathers commonly called Apostolic, who have special claims to be remembered. These are Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.
            The names of these cities remind us at once that we are passing into very different worlds from that world which immediately surrounded Clement and Hermas; and one at least of the two Eastern Fathers, Ignatius, is singularly unlike his two brethren of the West.  Ignatius was Bishop of the Christian Church at Antioch.  Beyond this bare fact we know nothing of his life and work before the last journey to which his letters belong. We can see from the letters that he had been condemned to death as a Christian at Antioch and sent off under a guard of ten soldiers to suffer death at Rome.  The course taken was, in part at least, through Asia Minor and then through Macedonia.  Arrived at Smyrna, he was welcomed not only by the church of the city and its bishop Polycarp, but also by the delegates of the churches of three other cities lying along what we should now call the loop line of road which he had not traversed, and especially the church of the great capital, Ephesus.  
            During this short stay at Smyrna he wrote three letters (which have been preserved) to these three churches which he had been obliged to pass unvisited, and a fourth of a different character to the Church of Rome, the goal of his journey, the place where he expected and desired to suffer martyrdom.  We next find him at Alexandria Troas, the seaport from which he was to sail for Europe.  There he had the happiness of being overtaken by two deacons from the neighborhood of his own Antioch, and receiving news of the cessation of the persecution which had caused his own condemnation.  There also he wrote three more letters, to the Church of Smyrna which he had just left, to Polycarp its bishop, and to the Church of Philadelphia which he had been allowed to visit on his way to Smyrna.  
            Thus the seven letters are made up, which are now in our hands.  Of the European part of his course we have traces in Polycarp’s Epistle, to which we shall come just now.  The Church of Philippi received him warmly, and at his request sent a letter of greeting to the Church of Antioch through Polycarp, as he had asked those other churches to do to which he had written after receiving the good tidings from Syria.  The Philippian Christians at the same time took the opportunity to ask Polycarp for copies of any letters of Ignatius in his possession.  Of what followed we know nothing beyond the bare fact that Ignatius suffered martyrdom at Rome.
            Two different narratives exist professing to describe his martyrdom, but they are fabrications of late date.  It is morally certain that the manner of death would be by the fangs of wild beasts, and that the place of it would be the vast Flavian amphitheater which for many centuries has been called the Colosseum.  Any one who may have the good fortune to visit Rome and stand within the ruins of that wonderful pile will do well to think of Ignatius, and the testimony which he bore. The time of Ignatius’ martyrdom is known on less clear evidence than could be wished.  The probabilities however are in favor of about a.d. 110, the time fixed by Lightfoot in general terms.
             We must now turn to the substance of the letters themselves.  It is impossible not to shrink in some degree from any attempt to analyze them, as almost a cold-blooded thing to do. Nothing in early Christian literature is at all like them; nothing else has the same intensely personal character.  It may be that their peculiarity is in part owing to difference of race:  we seem to hear a Syrian speaking to us, not a Greek, much less a Roman, though Ignatius is a Roman name.  But a strong personal individuality is there too.  Utterly unlike as they likewise are in other ways to all the apostolic Epistles, they have here and there a certain affinity of spirit to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the most individual of all St. Paul’s Epistles.  
            The thought that underlies every word is the thought that the writer is a man sentenced to death, to death for the name of his Lord.  The thought brings with it a sense of keen and yet utterly humble exultation.  As he passes through the cities of Asia, his constant impulse is towards close fellowship between himself and the various churches in their midst, and again between these and his own church of Antioch.  By word and by letter he is constantly striving to make them sharers in his own fervor of martyrdom, and to make himself a sharer in all that concerned their welfare.
            Here and there we find warnings against doctrinal errors to the influence of which these Asiatic churches were exposed, apparently of two types only:  one, the early form of what is commonly called Docetism, the tendency so to dwell on our Lord’s Divine nature as to regard His body as a mere unreal appearance; the other the subordination of the Christian faith to Judaism, somewhat as in the days of St. Paul.  This latter evil was specially rife at Philadelphia, where the Judaizers seem to have raised opposition against Ignatius himself as he passed through.
            But a larger part of the letters is taken up with practical exhortations, especially to unity of spirit, unity of worship, unity of organization.  Even at this early time the churches evidently had many members who had become careless about Christian fellowship, and neglectful of the means by which alone it could be preserved in warmth and vigor.  To take one significant example, it would seem that many of the Asiatic Christians had got into a habit of celebrating the Holy Communion in a loose and haphazard way, meeting together in little private knots of people, rather than in the central congregation as members of one great body.  In this as in all matters Ignatius endeavored to revive and strengthen internal and external fellowship by exhorting the members of the Church to gather dutifully round its duly appointed officers who were organized in a compact body of three orders, the bishop at the head, the presbytery or college of elders who formed his council, and the deacons or servants (diakonoi) who were chiefly occupied in the arrangements for the relief of the poorer members of the Church. Ignatius’ language on these subjects, sometimes startling enough at best, becomes at least more intelligible when this practical purpose of his is remembered. [See Lightfoot, Philippians, pp. 234 foll. and elsewhere.]
            Having a keen sense of the immediate evil, he eagerly has recourse to that external remedy which lay immediately ready to his hand. But it is poor work attempting to describe the words of a man like Ignatius. A few extracts will give a truer impression of him.  We will begin with one of the elaborate salutations which head his letters, that to the Philadelphians:
            “Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, which is in Philadelphia of Asia, which hath found mercy and is firmly established in the concord of God and rejoiceth in the passion of our Lord and in His resurrection without wavering, being fully assured in all mercy; which church I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, that is eternal and abiding joy; more especially if they be at one with the bishop and the presbyters who are with him, and with the deacons that have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom after His own will He confirmed and established by His Holy Spirit.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II., Sect, i., p. 559.]  
            Writing to the Ephesians he says,
            “I know who I am and to whom I write.  I am a convict, ye have received mercy; I am in peril, ye are established.  Ye are the high-road of those that are on their way to die unto God.  Ye are associates in the mysteries with Paul, who was sanctified, who obtained a good report, who is worthy of all felicitation; in whose footsteps I would fain be found treading, when I shall attain unto God; who in every letter maketh mention of you in Christ Jesus.
            “Do your diligence therefore to meet together more frequently for thanksgiving to God and for His glory.  For when ye meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are cast down; and his mischief cometh to nought in the concord of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.
            “None of these things is hidden from you, if ye be perfect in your faith and love toward Jesus Christ, for these are the beginning and end of life — faith is the beginning and love is the end — and the two being found in unity are God, while all things else follow in their train unto true nobility.  No man professing faith sinneth, and no man possessing love hateth. ‘The tree is manifest from its fruit’; so they that profess to be Christ’s shall be seen through their actions.  For the Work is not a thing of profession now, but is seen then when one is found in the power of faith unto the end.
            “It is better to keep silence and to be, than to talk and not to be. It is a fine thing to teach, if the speaker practice. Now there is one teacher, who ‘spoke and it came to pass’; yea and even the things which He spoke in silence are worthy of the Father. He that truly possesses the word of Jesus, is able also to hearken unto His silence, that he may be perfect; that through his speech he may act and through his silence he may be known.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II., Sect, i., p. 543.]
            And again a little earlier,
            “And pray ye also without ceasing for the rest of mankind (for there is in them a hope of repentance) that they may find God.  Therefore permit them to take lessons at least from your works.  Against their outbursts of wrath be ye meek; against their proud words be ye humble; against their railings set ye your prayers; against their errors be ye steadfast in the faith; against their fierceness be ye gentle.  And be not zealous to imitate them by requital.  Let us show ourselves their brothers by our forbearance; but let us be zealous to be imitators of the Lord, vying with each other – who shall suffer the greater wrong, who shall be defrauded, who shall be set at nought; that no herb of the devil be found in you: but in all purity and temperance abide ye in Christ Jesus, with your flesh and with your spirit.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II, Vol. II., Sect, i., p. 543.]
             For a comprehensive passage on unity we may take this from the Epistle to the Magnesians:
            “Seeing then that in the aforementioned persons I beheld your whole people in faith and embraced them, I advise you, be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the worlds and appeared at the end of time. Therefore do ye all study conformity to God and pay reverence one to another, and let no man regard his neighbor after the flesh, but love ye one another in Christ Jesus always.  Let there be nothing among you which shall have power to divide you, but be ye united with the bishop and with them that preside over you as an ensample and a lesson of incorruptibility.
            “Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him,] either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters.  And attempt not to think anything right for yourselves apart from others; but let there be one prayer in common, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy unblameable, which is Jesus Christ, than whom there is nothing better.  Hasten to come together all of you, as to one temple, even God; as to one altar, even to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from One Father and is with One and departed unto One.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II., Sect, i., p. 547.]
            These passages are from letters to churches, the six Asiatic churches to which he wrote.  We may take also a few words from the beginning of his one letter to a single man, Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna:
            “Ignatius who is also Theophorus, unto Polycarp, who is bishop of the Church of the Smyrnasans, or rather whose Bishop is God the Father and Jesus Christ, abundant greeting.  Welcoming thy godly mind which is grounded as it were on an immovable rock, I give exceeding glory that it hath been vouchsafed me to see thy blameless face, whereof I would fain have joy in God. I exhort thee in the grace wherewith thou art clothed to press forward in thy course and to exhort all men that they may be saved. Vindicate thine office in all diligence of flesh and of spirit.  Have a care for union, than which there is nothing better.  Bear all men, as the Lord also bears thee.  Suffer all men in love, as also thou doest.  Give thyself to unceasing prayers.  Ask for larger wisdom than thou hast.  Be watchful, and keep thy spirit from slumbering.  Speak to each man severally after the manner of God.  Bear the maladies of all, as a perfect athlete. Where there is much toil, there is much gain.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II., Sect, i., p. 567.]
            I have kept till last the Epistle to the Romans, which is of different character from the rest.  This was the church which was to receive him last; at Rome he was to die.  To the Roman Christians he pours forth his inmost thoughts about his martyrdom.  The exhortation which he has to address to them is chiefly that they will do nothing to hinder him in attaining this object of his desire.  It is probable enough that among them were to be found persons of much influence with the emperor, who might thus have been able to save his life.  But this is what he most anxiously deprecates. It must be confessed that much of the language here used about martyrdom is out of harmony with the teaching of the Lord and His Apostles. Taken up by men of a lower type of mind and character, it led but too naturally to the mere frenzy of self-destruction, under the name of martyrdom, against which some of the wiser Fathers had afterwards to protest.  But reverence is due even to the extravagances of such a lofty soul as that of Ignatius.

            “Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her that hath found mercy in the bountifulness of the Father Most High and of Jesus Christ His only Son; to the Church that is beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that are, by faith and love towards Jesus Christ our God; even unto her that hath the presidency in the country of the region of the Romans, being worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of felicitation, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy in purity, and having the presidency of love, walking in the law of Christ and bearing the Father’s name ; which Church also I salute in the name of Jesus Christ the Son of the Father; unto them that in flesh and spirit are united unto His every commandment, being filled with the grace of God without wavering, and filtered clear from every foreign stain; abundant greeting in Jesus Christ our God in blamelessness.
            “Forasmuch as in answer to my prayer to God it hath been granted to me to see your godly countenances, so that I have obtained even more than I asked; for wearing bonds in Christ Jesus I hope to salute you, if it be the Divine will that I should be counted worthy to reach unto the end; for the beginning verily is well ordered, if so be I shall attain unto the goal, that I may receive mine inheritance without hindrance.  For I dread your very love, lest it do me an injury: for it is easy for you to do what ye will, but for me it is difficult to attain unto God, unless ye shall spare me.
            “For I would not have you to be men-pleasers, but to please God, as indeed ye do please Him.  For neither shall I myself ever find an opportunity such as this to attain unto God, nor can ye, if ye be silent, win the credit of any nobler work.  For if ye be silent and leave me alone, I am a word of God; but if ye desire my flesh, then shall I be again a mere cry.  Nay grant me nothing more than that I be poured out a libation to God, while there is still an altar ready; that forming yourselves into a chorus in love ye may sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, for that God hath vouchsafed that the bishop from Syria should be found in the West, having summoned him from the East.  It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise unto Him.”
            “I write to all the churches, and I bid all men know, that of my own free will I die for God, unless ye should hinder me.  Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God.  I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread [of Christ].  Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my sepulcher and may leave no part of my body behind, so that I may not, when I am fallen asleep, be burdensome to anyone.  Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see my body.  Supplicate the Lord for me, that through these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God.  I do not enjoin you, as Peter and Paul did.  They were apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am a slave this very hour.  Yet if I shall suffer, then am I a Freedman of Jesus Christ, and I shall rise free in Him.  Now I am learning in my bonds to put away every desire.
            “Remember in your prayers the church which is in Syria, which hath God for its shepherd in my stead.  Jesus Christ alone shall be its bishop.  He and your love.  But for myself I am ashamed to be called one of them; for neither am I worthy, being the very last of them and an untimely birth, but I have found mercy that I should be some one; if so be I shall attain unto God. My spirit salutes you, and the love of the churches which received me in the name of Jesus Christ, not as a mere wayfarer; for even those churches which did not He on my route after the flesh went before me from city to city.
            “Now I write these things unto you from Smyrna by the hand of the Ephesians who are worthy of all felicitation. And Crocus also, a name very dear to me, is with me, with many others besides.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II, Sect, i., pp. 555. foll.]

            Polycarp, we have seen, was the chief person with whom Ignatius was brought in contact on his journey as a condemned prisoner through Asia Minor. There are other proper names in tolerable abundance in the Ignatian letters: but they belong to men now forgotten, and even in that day none of them can have had the prominence of Polycarp.  His own one extant writing belongs to this very time; i.e. it was written after Ignatius had not only left Asia Minor but Philippi also, but when as yet no tidings had come from Italy as to what had befallen him at Rome.  This writing is a letter to the Philippians in answer to that which they had written on Ignatius’ departure.  To it were appended copies of the letters written by Ignatius to Smyrna and other churches, and these copies are probably the source of our present collection.  The letter itself has no such vivid personal interest as those of Ignatius.  The good Polycarp was a much more commonplace person.
            But apart from its connection with Ignatius, his letter has a great value of its own, partly as showing what manner of thoughts on Christian faith and practice the bishop of a great Asiatic city cherished at that early date, partly also as showing what writings of the Apostles he possessed and revered and drew upon (and that copiously) to give point and authority to what he had to say. The letter is for the most part made up of brotherly admonition, partly to the Philippian church at large, partly to its deacons, partly to its elders. There is no mention of any bishop, any more than there is in Ignatius’ epistle to the Romans.  Apparently this concentration of church government had not yet at this time spread from Asia into Europe.  We may take a short chapter from near the beginning (after the Salutation), and another from near the end:
            “I rejoiced with you greatly in our Lord Jesus Christ, for that ye received the followers of the true love and escorted them on their way, as befitted you – those men encircled in saintly
bonds which are the diadems of them that be truly chosen of God and our Lord; and that the steadfast root of your faith which was famed from primitive times abides until now and bears fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured to face even death for our sins, ‘whom God raised, having loosed the pangs of Hades; on whom, though ye saw Him not, ye believe with joy unutterable and full of glory’; unto which joy many desire to enter in; forasmuch as ye know that it is ‘by grace ye are saved, not of works,’ but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II., Sect, ii., p. 1051.]

            “For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you.  But to myself this is not granted.  Only, as it is said in the scriptures, ‘Be ye angry and sin not,’ and ‘Let not the sun set on your wrath.’  Blessed is he that remembers this; and I trust that this is in you.  Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Himself, the God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and purity; and may He grant unto you a lot and portion among His saints, and to us with you, and to all that are under heaven, who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father ‘that raised Him from the dead.  Pray for all the saints.’  Pray also ‘for kings and powers and princes,’ and ‘for them that persecute and hate you,’ and for ‘the enemies of the cross,’ that your fruit may be ‘manifest among all men,’ that ye may be perfect in Him.” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. II. Sect, ii., p. 1055.]

            This meeting with Ignatius must have come somewhere towards the middle of Polycarp’s long life.  His importance for us depends in no small degree on that longevity of his.  As Dr. Lightfoot has expounded with peculiar force, he bridges the long and comparatively obscure period between the close of the apostolic age and the great writers of the latter part of the second century.  Born somewhere about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, he lived in early life near St. John and it may be one or two more of the Twelve.  Of this converse in early youth he used to rejoice to tell in his later years.  This we learn from a striking passage from a letter of Irenaeus which has happily been preserved.
            “I can tell,” he wrote, “the very place in which the blessed Paul used to sit when he discoursed, Polycarp and his goings out and his comings in, and the stamp of his life, and his bodily appearance, and the discourses which he held towards the congregation, and how he would describe his intercourse with John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words.  And whatsoever things he had heard from them about the Lord and about His acts of power and about His teaching, Polycarp, as having received them from eyewitnesses of the life and Word would relate altogether in accordance with the Scriptures.” [From Lightfoot, I. 429.   Eusebius, v. 20.]

            But from that midpoint of Polycarp’s life formed by the passing of Ignatius we are able not only to look back to his youth but also forward to his extreme old age.  Somewhere about the middle of the second century he made a journey to Rome to take counsel with Anicetus the Bishop (for by that time episcopacy was regularly established at Rome) about various matters of Church usage, but especially about the time of celebrating the Paschal festival, as to which the Churches of Asia Minor differed from those of the West.  They remained in perfect amity, though the differences of usage continued, and Anicetus paid Polycarp the honor of setting him in his own place to preside over the Eucharistic service at Rome.
            Not long after the old man’s return, something like forty-five years after Ignatius’ death for conscience sake, he too in his turn was called to give his life in bearing witness to the truth.  A probably genuine narrative of his martyrdom still survives, being a letter from the Church of Smyrna to one or more Churches in Phrygia.
            Every one, I suppose, has somewhere or other read the answer which he is recorded to have made when the magistrate, anxious to spare him, besought him to revile the Christ, and so obtain release.  “Fourscore and six years have I been his servant; and how can I blaspheme my King that saved me.”  Let us read also his last words when he had been tied to the stake, true last words of a true Father of the Church:
            “So they did not nail him, but tied him.  Then he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound to the stake, like a noble ram out of a great flock for an offering, a burnt sacrifice made ready and acceptable to God, looking up to heaven said, ‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God.  For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.’” [From Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II., Vol. ii., Sect, ii., p. 1064.]

No comments: