VI. The Theology of St. Ignatius

[British Critic, Jan. 1839]

{222} THE undertaking which we are proposing to ourselves in the following pages, is one of no small delicacy, but of proportionally great importance; and if we only succeed in making some suggestions for its satisfactory accomplishment, which others may pursue for themselves, we shall deem it worth while to have attempted it.

That a certain system, called Catholicism, was the religion of the whole of Christendom, not many centuries after the Christian era, and continued to be mainly identified with the Gospel, whether with or without certain additions, at least down to the Reformation, is confessed by all parties. The point debated between them has reference to the origin of this system,—when it began, and who began it. Those who maintain its Apostolic origin, are obliged to grant that it is not directly and explicitly inculcated in the Apostolic writings themselves. When they turn for aid to the generation next to the Apostles, they find but few Christian writers at all, and the information to be derived from them to be partial and meagre. This is their difficulty, and the difficulty which we purpose here to meet, by considering how the text of those writers who {223} have come down to us—the Apostolic Fathers as they are called—is legitimately to be treated, and what light, thus treated, it throws upon the question which is in dispute between Catholics and their opponents.

The works of the Apostolical Fathers, we repeat, are short, and their doctrinal declarations, of whatever kind, brief and almost sententious. If, then, they bear witness to what in the following centuries is taught diffusely, they must witness, from the nature of the case, in words which, as being few, admit of a various interpretation more readily than if they were more numerous and explicit. Accordingly, the controversy between those who appeal to them for and against the Catholic system of doctrine, or any portions of it, turns upon this issue—whether the Catholic and later statements are due developments, or but ingenious perversions of those passages from St. Clement or St. Ignatius, which are brought forward as proofs of them. For instance, Clement uses the word [prosphora], sacrifice, and [leitourgia], or liturgy; and Ignatius [thusiasterion], altar; and [hairesis], heresy. Are the Greek words adequately represented by the English, which convey the more modern or Catholic ideas? Or are these English words but comments, and unfair, untrue comments,—glosses—upon the language of an era anterior to the system of which those words form part? This is the question now to be considered.


It will be seen at once, then, that the state of the case is one in which every reader is likely to make up his mind according to his previous modes of thinking. Men have ever a tendency to explain phenomena of whatever sort on the principles familiar to their own minds, or by their own bias. Thus witnesses in a court of justice {224} unconsciously colour, according to their party feelings, the particulars of a fray, and give very precise and very sincere contradictions to each other on the points of detail, whether of time, of language used, or of conduct, on which the rights of the transaction turn. In like manner, historians explain events their own way, and the followers of opposing religions interpret them on conflicting views of divine Providence. The case is the same as regards the reasons for and against some particular proposition; it is not that each party allows those of the other, and strikes a balance in order to arrive at a practical conclusion; but to the one or the other its own side of the question shines out in the light of unclouded demonstration, and the other appears absolutely weak and contemptible. Each side is unable to feel the force of the case opposed to it, and drops all considerations but those which make for itself. So are we constituted; and in the instance before us, in like manner, unless a document speaks out with extraordinary clearness, it will not impress its own sense, whatever it be, on a reader; but he will consider his own in particular to be the one natural sense, and every other to be strained and perverse. The one party will take it, for instance, as a self-evident truth that [thusiasterion] in Ignatius cannot but mean altar in the modern sense; and the other, that this is a refinement put upon the free inartificial language of a primitive document.

Now how this question is to be settled, what principle is to be adopted in order to assay these conflicting explanations of the state of the case, by what test we are to discriminate a sophistical from a genuine interpretation of a given text, shall be considered presently; here, in the first place, we would insist on this, that, whereas explanations look strange or not, according to our previous {225} bias, therefore their looking strange to us is no reason that they are not true. Accordingly, when a modern controversialist speaks of taking Scripture in a "natural" way, he really means in his own way; when he exhorts us to take the words "keep the deposit," or "we have an altar," or "the husband of one wife," "simply and plainly," without reference to the "disputes" and "fancies" by which men have obscured the intelligible meaning of the sacred text, he is only begging us to take the truth of his previous view for granted, and to rule the question on his side; and when he censures the "wildness," or "perverseness," or "subtlety of mind," or "illogical reasoning," which would explain "illumination" of baptism, or "whosesoever sins ye remit," etc., of sacerdotal power, or any other still more sacred text or phrase of the sacred truth with which the Church has ever identified it, he really does but express surprise that he never heard that interpretation before. Prepossession has imposed, and habit has fixed for him, a certain meaning on the words of Scripture; and, as we all know, a man's will is the best of all possible reason; and habit is confessedly a second nature.

We can conceive persons carrying this process of private interpretation to any extent; indeed, whoever takes the trouble to watch what goes on in those around him, or in himself, will have instances at command stronger than he would dare to indulge his fancy in inventing. One remarkable illustration, to which many will bear witness, has occurred in the case of a certain well-known book of religious poems, which need not be more particularly specified [Note 1]. This book, for eight or ten years, was cherished by persons of a great variety of opinions, who saw in it their own doctrines, or at least {226} had very little suspicion, commensurate with the fact, of the unbending churchmanship of the author. The last year or two has discovered what his real views are; and now at length they are detected in his work, and exposed to reprobation in the public prints. A more remarkable instance still is one to which we can bear witness ourselves, though certainly it is one which is not likely to occur every day, of a person of great ability having read the first half dozen of the Tracts for the Times on their original publication, and rising from their perusal without any notion at all, first what the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession was; next, that any member of the English Church, nay further, that the said Tracts, maintained it. This seems marvellous; but the explanation, if we may attempt one, was as follows: the individual in question read them with this one view, to see if there was anything "spiritual," as he would call it, in them; it was not his object to throw his mind upon them and ascertain what was there, but to determine whether something else was not there, or how far it was there; and his idea of the Tracts, as of every other subject, was framed upon this artificial division of things in his mind,—not what their real opinions were, or whether they were of any opinion at all, but whether they had in them one certain doctrine, which was as distinct from their subject-matter as the types they were printed in, or the paper which they covered.

In like manner, we believe it to be possible, nay and not uncommon, for a student to employ himself laboriously in the Fathers, and yet to attain to as little idea of the rich mines of thought, or the battle-fields which he is passing over, as if he was visiting the coasts of the Mediterranean without a knowledge of history or geology. There is a popular story called "Eyes and {227} No Eyes," which we need hardly do more than recall to the reader's recollection:—two boys take a walk together, and return the one full and the other empty of intelligence gained in the course of it. Thus students rise from the Fathers, some profited by them, others disappointed, complaining that there is nothing or little in them, or much that is very fanciful; and all because they do not know what to look for, or are possessed with one or more ideas which they in vain seek to find in them. Their notion of the matter of divinity is so different from what prevailed in primitive times, that the surface of their minds does not come into contact with what they read; the points on which they themselves would insist slip on one side, or pass between those of the Fathers; their own divisions of the subject are cross-divisions, or in some way or other inconsistent with theirs. Thus they are ever at cross-purposes with the author they are studying; they do not discern his drift; and then, according as their minds are more or less of a reverent character, they despise or excuse him. At best they call him "venerable," which means out of date and useless. We have known one whom all would have acknowledged to be at the time deeply versed in the Fathers, yet taken by surprise by the question whether bishops and priests were the same or distinct orders in the early Church? as not having even contemplated the question. Again, we know a person who, when he entered on them, read and analyzed Ignatius, Barnabas, Clement, Polycarp, and Justin, with exceeding care, but who now considers his labour to have been all thrown away, from the strange modern divisions under which he threw the matter he found in them. Indeed, with our modern notions and modern ignorance, it will be well if we think the Fathers no worse than unprofitable reading, and not {228} rather heretical, Arian or Papistical, as the case may be. Readers of Justin, for instance, who are unversed in Bull's Defensio, are likely to consider Justin the former; and readers of Cyprian, who are versed in Milner's Church History, will pronounce Cyprian the latter. Inconsistency, again, and contrariety form another class of charges which modern minds will not be slow to urge against the Fathers: they pronounce that to be unintelligible or self-contradictory which they have not the depth to reconcile with itself, or the key to explain. It is much more comfortable to suppose a book to be absurd, than one's self to be dull; and, as in the fable of the Lion and the Man, moderns have the decision all their own way. The ancient Church cannot speak for herself.

Whatever then be the true way of interpreting the Fathers, and in particular the Apostolical Fathers, if a man begins by summoning them before him, instead of betaking himself to them,—by seeking to make them evidence for modem dogmas, instead of throwing his mind upon their text, and drawing from them their own doctrines,—he will to a certainty miss their sense. We are grieved to see a controversialist go to Irenĉus or Cyprian with the so-called "Articulus stantis vel cadentis Ecclesiĉ" in his hand, to measure them by; we are grieved for his own sake at his selecting a doctrine, which, though true in itself, and essential in its implicit form, is as unnecessary as an avowed proposition, and as inadequate as an elementary formula, and as preposterous as a standard of either Father's works, as if one were to criticise Gothic architecture by the proportions of Italian, or to attempt the mysterious strains of Beethoven on the flute or guitar; and much more, when the modern doctrine which is introduced is actually untenable, such {229} as "assurance," or as post-baptismal regeneration. Such then is one serious truth which should be kept in view in judging of the Fathers,—that they who come with modern notions will find in them no notions at all; for they are not willing to discern that their writings are Catholic, and they will not be able to find what they are else. And another important position is this,—that they who are versed in their writings are more fitted to have a judgment concerning them, and duly to interpret particular passages in them, than they who are not; and, as this too is very much forgotten at the present day, it will be right here to speak of it distinctly.

Nothing then is more common than a supercilious way of dealing with the writings of the Fathers, as if it were enough to measure the nature and value of their contents by antecedent reasoning, without having the trouble of a personal inspection of them. It is the fashion of the day to consider the plausibility of a theory about them as a warrant for its truth, the question of fact being altogether superseded. For instance, it is common to say that Pagan, Jewish, or philosophical notions came into the Church and corrupted it; now what are the grounds for this assertion? First, because Pagans, Jews, and philosophers were converted; and, next, because there are doctrines and practices in the Church parallel to those which existed among Pagans, Jews, and philosophers; but how far the actual history of Christianity substantiates such an hypothesis, is not examined. What abstractedly may be, this, it seems, in the given case, must be. Again, we may hear it objected to the received account of this or that early heresy, that our information about it comes merely from opponents, and that it holds good as a general proposition, that the statements of a theological opponent are never to be {230} trusted. Certainly, this is a general truth, but what is that to the purpose in a particular case? Is the evidence of testimony to be peremptorily put aside, as it is by Hume in his celebrated dictum about miracles? Who denies that opponents are often prejudiced, and not to be trusted? and that their testimony therefore is, in all cases, to be narrowly watched? But how does that acquit a critic, in a given case, who will not take that case as it stands? Yet a great many men do make some such grand general sentiment as we have specified an excuse for not inquiring, and yet deciding; not merely for suspending their judgment, as not having time to inquire, but for magisterially absolving this or that heretic, as if they could possibly tell, before going into the case, how far the dictum in question applied, and how far it did not. It is very strange that, while in other sciences the maxim "cuique credendum in arte suâ" is accepted, yet that, in theological knowledge, any one, however ignorant, conceives he can judge for himself, as if the common voice of mankind acknowledged such judgment in theology as a natural faculty. Persons fancy that without reading, or at least by mere dipping into the Fathers, they can describe their characters, enumerate their points of faith, and decide on the interpretation of particular passages and expressions. They conceive that they take luminous views of history, because they confine themselves to their own circle of thought and opinion.

A man says, "I want to write a book upon the Fathers; I know exactly what to think of them, and pretty well what I mean my work to be. I want it to convey to the general reader what I have already in my own mind, a lucid idea of the position they held in the Universal Church, their place in the Divine Dispensation, what they are, and what they are not. They have their {231} excellences and defects, and I mean to be candid towards them. I reverence them, and shall show it; I will point out also where they failed, and show that this was the fault of their age, not of them. I will refute also those who at this moment cry them up in so exaggerated a way; and will set them an example of a calm dispassionate judgment, neither saying too much nor too little. For this purpose, it is necessary that I should read both what the Fathers have written, and what their recent upholders say. This I mean to do; I have got or can command a good library, and the best editions. But first I shall put down my ideas on paper; and to do this, it will be sufficient to make use of Gibbon's Roman Empire, Mosheim's smaller Church History, 'Ante Constantinum,' his Ecclesiastical Dissertations, Dallĉus De Usu Patrum, Beausobre on Manicheism, Lardner's Credibility, Jones on the Canon, Basnage's Annals, and parts of Osburn's Errors of the Primitive Fathers. When I have got my ideas into shape, I will consult and pursue the references of these authors, and illustrate my main positions from the Fathers. So much for the ancients; as to their inordinate admirers of this day, I know their views tolerably well already; any one can see through what is a mere revival of Laud's or the non-juring theology. However, I will be candid to them also, for doubtless they are pious, excellent men, and they advocate what has truth in it, though in an exaggerated form; and they have certainly got some things from the Fathers, good or bad, though they have distorted them." Such is the history of the conception of a great theological work. Our divine then sets about it; he dips into the Fathers, and they confirm his anticipations; he writes rapidly; he sketches off his characters; exhibits the lights and shades of Augustine or Jerome, the {232} leading idea of the Nicene Council, or of the Theodosian Code. He condemns the Fathers for some things; applauds them in other cases; explains away their language in other. He interprets them upon his own modern notions, and calls it vindicating them. He warms with his subject, and becomes eloquent. His book is now written, and the Fathers still are to be read in course;—this is dry work, and time presses; his prospective range of reading contracts; his sense of its obligation fades; he is much more certain that he is right, than when he entered on his subject; what then is the use of reading? He publishes; he is cried up; his name carries weight. He says one thing; Bull or Beveridge says another. Of his readers, one man prefers a writer of the nineteenth century to one of the seventeenth; another thinks his views so sensible and probable as to carry conviction with them; a third rejoices to be able to argue that since great divines differ, there is no getting at the truth, that anything can be proved from the Fathers, and anything asserted of the history and tenets of primitive Christianity; and a fourth, for the same reason, is really perplexed. Anyhow, he has gained his point; he has shown that the arguments of his adversaries admit of question, has thrown the whole subject into the gulf of controversy, and given a specimen how the age of railroads should behave towards the age of martyrs.

Now the elementary fallacy in this process is the notion, that persons who are not familiar with the Fathers are as good judges of their motives, aims, and meaning as those who are. Men fancy, for instance, that though they have never seen Clement or Ignatius, or any other Father before, they are quite as well qualified to interpret the words liturgia, or prosphora, as if they knew them all well. How different is their judgment in other {233} matters! Who will not grant, except in the case of theology, that an experienced eye is an important qualification for understanding the distinction of things, or detecting their force and tendency? In politics, the sagacious statesman puts his finger on some apparently small or not confessedly great event, promptly declares it to be "no little matter," and is believed. Why? because he is conceived to be a scholar in the language of political history, and to be well read in the world's events. In the same way the comparative anatomist falls in with a little bone, and confidently declares from it the make, habits, and age of the animal to which it belonged. What should we say to the unscientific hearer who disputed his accuracy, and attempted to argue against him? Yet, is not this just the case of those sciolists, or less than sciolists in theology, who, when persons who have given time to the Fathers recognize in some phrase or word in Clement or Ignatius a Catholic doctrine, object that the connexion between the phrase and the doctrine is not clear to them, and allow nothing to the judgment of the experienced, over that of ordinary men? Or again, surely it needs not be formally proved, that sympathy and congeniality of mind have a place in enabling us to enter into another's meaning. His single words or tones are nothing to one man; they tell a story to another; the one man passes them over; the other is arrested by them, and never forgets them. Such is the difference between reading an Apostolical Father with or without a knowledge of theological language.

To read then a particular Father to advantage, we must, as a preliminary, do these two things—divest ourselves of modern ideas and prejudices, and study theology. The work of Bull, for instance, above mentioned, or the Fifth Book of the Ecclesiastical Polity, or Laud {234} on Tradition, will give quite a new character to our studies; it will impart to them a reality, and thereby an interest, which cannot otherwise be gained, and will give an ancient document a use by giving it a meaning. Such seems the state of the case; and now some instances shall be given by way of illustration.


We feel, indeed, a difficulty in entering upon the subject, both from the impossibility of doing justice to it in a few words, and on account of the especially sacred character of the doctrines which it will introduce. On both accounts it is unsuitable to a Review; nevertheless, we trust that some useful hints may be practicable in spite of the opposite dangers of saying too much and too little. We begin, then, thus:—When it is said that of two persons,—one who comes to an ancient theological document with modern or ultra-Protestant notions, and another with ecclesiastical notions (that is, the notions, for instance, of the fourth or fifth century, or of our divines, such as Bull, Bramhall, or Beveridge,)—and who in consequence interpret the words, phrases, and dicta (say) of Ignatius or Clement in opposite ways,—that of these the latter is right and the former wrong; of course a connexion is assumed between the received system of theology in the Church and of these early Fathers, as if that system was their legitimate comment. This assumption is plainly involved; and its justification rests upon the truth of a circumstance, which has been already touched upon, viz., that the ecclesiastical sense is the only real key to their writings; it alone fits into their wards; it alone makes much of and gives a sufficient sense to those points on which they lay stress. As when we say a person better understands another who {235} discerns and gives an interpretation to his hints, looks, and gestures, than he who either does not see them, or passes them over;—as we say that a construer or translator enters into the spirit of an author who brings more out of him than the many see in him: so, to say the least, the Church system has greater claims to be considered Ignatian or Clementine than the ultra-Protestant, in that it comes at least with the profession of being an interpretation of documents in which the other discerns little or nothing. This is the point to be illustrated; and to keep within compass we shall confine our remarks to Ignatius.

Mr. Jacobson has found an admirable motto for his recent edition of the Apostolical Fathers, in a passage of Cicero, which deposes to the value of Antiquity on the ground of its greater proximity to the divine origin of the things which it witnesses—"quĉ, quo proprius aberat ab ortu et divina progenie, hoc melius ea fortasse, quĉ erant vera, cernebat." We do not assume for Ignatius more than this, that his witness comes immediately after the inspired sources of truth, that he was the friend of Apostles, and that, therefore, he was more likely to know their views of Gospel truth, and consequently their meaning in their extant writings, than a modern. This being taken for granted, the following remarks are made in proof of this point, that St. Ignatius' view of Gospel truth was very much the same as that taken in "the Catholic religion," and not that of ultra-Protestantism.

Ignatius writes in various Epistles as follows:

"There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual, born and unborn; God incarnate, true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible, then impassible."—Eph. § 7. "Our God, even Jesus the Christ, was borne in the womb by Mary according to the {236} dispensation [Note 2] of God, of the seed of David, and of the Holy Ghost."— § 18. "Suffer me to copy the passion of my God."—Rom. § 6. "I endure all things, as He who became perfect man enables me."—Smyrn. § 4. "Study the seasons, await Him who is above all seasons, independent of time; the Invisible, who for us became visible; the Impalpable, the Impassible, who for us became passible, who for us endured in every way."—Pol. § 3. "What availeth it me, if any one praiseth me, but blasphemeth my Lord, not confessing that He bore flesh."—Smyrn. § 5.

In these extracts there are a number of remarkable expressions, which the student in Catholic theology alone will recognize, and he at once, as belonging to that theology, and having a special reference to the heretical perversions of it. He will enter into, and another might pass over, such words and phrases as [gennetos kai agennetos],—[en sarki genomenos theos],—[ek Marias kai ek theou],—[pathetos kai apathes],—[achronos],—[aoratos, di' hemas oratos],—[teleios anthropos genomenos],—[sarkophoros],—[pathos tou theou]. He will perceive such expressions to be dogmatic, and will be at home in them.

1. For instance, take the words [teleios anthropos], perfect man. A heresy existed in the beginning of the fourth century, which was in fact a revival of the Docetĉ, in St. John's times, viz., that our Lord was not really a man as other men are, that He had no intellectual soul, and, as they went on to say, not even a real body. Such was the tenet of Apollinarianism; and the Catholics protested against it by maintaining that Christ was "perfect man." This was their special symbol against the heresy, as we find it in the Athanasian Creed, "perfect man, subsisting of a reasonable soul and human flesh." The Apollinarians joined issue on this point; they contended that it was impossible for one and the same person {237} to contain in him [duo teleia], and that since our Lord was perfect God, He could not be perfect man. In consequence, this became a turning-point of the controversy, and is treated as such, among other authors, by Athanasius, Nazianzen, Epiphanius, Leontius, and Maximus [Note 3].

The importance of the word is most readily shown by its occurrence in the Creeds. The Athanasian has already been mentioned; in like manner a confession ascribed by Theodoret to St. Ambrose, speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ, "who in the last days became incarnate, and took on Him a perfect manhood of rational soul and body;" so that "of two perfect natures an union has been made ineffably," etc. In a Creed of Pelagius, who was orthodox on this point, we are told that "they who own in the Son an imperfect God and imperfect man, are to be accounted not to hold truly either God or man." And John of Antioch, in his explanation to St. Cyril, confesses that our Lord is "perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and body." [Note 4] The expression, then, "perfect man," was a portion of the dogmatic Catholic view existing in the fourth and fifth centuries. Now, as we have above quoted, it belongs also to Ignatius: "I endure all," he says, "as He, who became perfect man, enables me." Here, then, on the one hand we find a word in Ignatius which is scarcely taken from Scripture, which is uncongenial to modern sentiments, which is uncalled-for by the context, which has the air of a dogmatic expression, which was well adapted to expose existing errors, and which is found in a work which does actually oppose heresies of various sorts. {238}On the other hand, we find this word undeniably and prominently a dogmatic term in the fourth century; can we doubt that it is dogmatic in Ignatius? or, in other words, that Ignatius' tone of writing is inconsistent with the modern theory, whether that pious feelings, or again that good lives, are the whole of religion, and formal creeds are superfluous or burdens?

2. Take another instance. He speaks of those who "blaspheme" Christ, "not confessing that He bore flesh" ([sarkophoron]). This word is of a dogmatic character on the very face of the passage; and it is notoriously such in after-controversy. It is so used by Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, and in the Confessions of the Emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian. It was used both in the Apollinarian and Nestorian controversies; by the Catholics against Nestorius, who asserted that our Lord was not [theos sarkophoros], but [anthropos theophoros], and by the Apollinarians as imputing to the Catholics what was the Nestorian tenet.

3. Again: Nestorius holding, after the Cerinthians and other early Gnostics, that the Son of God was distinct from Christ, a man, as if Christ had a separate existence or personality, the Catholics met the heresy, among other strong statements, by the phrases that "God was born, and suffered on the cross," and that the Blessed Virgin was [theotokos], "the Mother of God." On the other hand, such phrases, it is scarcely necessary to say, are considered, in the judgment of this day's religion, at once incorrect and unbecoming. This is not the place to go into the history of the controversy, and to show their propriety and necessity. The latter of the two is found in Origen, who, moreover, employed himself in an inquiry into its real meaning [Note 5], which is remarkable {239} as showing that it was at that time a received word; for we do not investigate what we have invented. It is used by Alexander, Nazianzen, and Athanasius, and, as many think, by Dionysius. As to the former phrase, Irenĉus speaks of our Lord's "descensio in Mariam;" Tertullian of His descending "in vulvam, de vulvâ carnem participaturus;" of "Dei passiones;" "Dei interemptores;" and Athanasius of the "[soma theou]," and of the consequent duty of worshipping It. Athanasius, indeed, as is well known, objected to the phrase that God suffered, as used by Apollinaris, understanding him by [theos] to mean [theotes]; but that it was a usual and received phrase in the Catholic Church cannot be doubted. Now turning to Ignatius, we find it in a passage above quoted from his Epistles; he speaks of being "a follower of the [pathos tou theou]." In like manner he says that "our God, Jesus the Christ, was borne in the womb [ekuophorethe], by Mary." Is this the language of the modern school, and not rather of the Catholic Church?

4. Another expression commonly insisted on by the Fathers, in their dogmatic teaching, is that of the "one" Christ; and that for various doctrinal reasons which need not be dwelt on here. Not to mention Scripture, we find it in the Nicene Creed, and still more emphatically in the Athanasian, "who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by, etc. ... one altogether, not by, etc. ... God and man is one Christ." There are numberless passages in the Fathers to the same effect; we will cite two only. Irenĉus says that St. John "acknowledges one and the same Word of God; and Him Only-begotten, and Him incarnate for our salvation," and that St Matthew knows "one and the same Jesus Christ," and that St. Paul "plainly intimates that there is one God who promised {240} His Son through the prophets, and one Jesus Christ our Lord" … and that St. Mark "announces one and the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was announced by the prophets ... All the aforesaid (heretics)," he adds, "though they confess with the tongue that Jesus Christ is one, trifle with themselves."—Hĉr. iii. 16, §§ 2, 3, 6. And Nazianzen, "God came forth from the Virgin with the assumption (of humanity), being from two contraries, flesh and spirit, one; of which the one was made God, and the other made it God" ([on to men etheose to de etheothe]). Now let it be observed, this is the very mode of speaking which Ignatius adopts: "There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual," etc. "One faith, and one Jesus Christ." It surely cannot be doubted that Ignatius in this passage, and Scripture before him, is dogmatic; that is, that the phrase in question is not accidental and transitory, but has a definite and permanent force, or is an article of faith.

5. Again: One especial sign of dogmatic statements is, that the words and phrases contained in them are contrasted with one another. Where the particular terms in which the sense is conveyed are not to be insisted on, in such a document apparent inconsistency in their use is not considered to matter; they are smoothed over and reconciled. For instance, when it is said, upon St. Paul's conversion, first, that his companions "heard a voice, but saw no man," and afterwards that they "saw the light, but heard not the voice," we think little of the verbal contradiction, from an understanding that the sense is not confined within the words themselves, but that an appeal is made to the intelligence of the reader as their interpreter. When, however, an author seems aware of this apparent inconsistency, yet does not retract, but even insists on it, we rightly conceive {241} that he has a purpose in so doing, that there is something in his expressions which is above us, something which we cannot master or make subjective, and may not attempt to reconcile at our private discretion. Such, before the event, were the two prophecies, one of which said that Zedekiah should go to Babylon, the other that he should not see it; which were reconciled in the event by his losing his eyes before he was taken thither. The Athanasian Creed aptly exemplifies what is here meant; almost its whole dogmatic force lying not in any peculiarity of phrase, but in antithetical structure. In like manner, Irenĉus:

"Being Invisible, He was made visible; being Infinite, He was made finite; being Impassible, He was made passible; being the Word, He was made man," etc.—Ibid. § 6.

Again, Vincent of Lerins:

"In one and the same Christ are two substances; one divine, the other human; one from God the Father, the other from the Virgin Mother; one co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, the other of one substance with His Mother; yet one and the same Christ in either substance. There is one and the same Christ, God and man; the same not created and created; the same unchangeable and impassible, and changed and suffering; the same equal, and inferior, to the Father; the same begotten of the Father before the world, and born in the world of His Mother; perfect God and perfect man."—Commonit. § 19.

And Athanasius:

"He was born before the worlds from the Father; He was also in these last days from the Virgin; before Invisible, even to the holy powers of heaven, visible now by reason of His union with the manhood which was seen; seen, I say, not in His invisible divinity, but by the action of the divinity through man's body and entire humanity ([holou anthropou]), which He renewed by making it His own."—Orat. in Arian, iv. fin.

Every one would feel these to be dogmatic passages, {242} and to belong to what may be called Church divinity, yet let it be observed, there is scarcely one word in them which bears on it the signs of a theology, such as [homoousion, perichoresis], [proeleusis]—not one word which we might not find in Ignatius. The dogmatical character of each depends entirely on the contra-position of words in themselves common; that is to say, there is no reason why we should call Athanasius in such a passage dogmatic (as we do, and rightly), which will not much more apply to such passages as the following in Ignatius: "There is one physician, both fleshly and spiritual, with and without beginning, God become flesh, true life in death, both of Mary and of God; first passible, then impassible;" or again, "the Invisible who for us became visible; the Impassible who for us became passible"—Pol. 3; or again, as some read, "One Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David according to the flesh, the Son of Man, and Son of God."—Eph. § 20.

These are various specimens of passages on which we may rely in proof of the theological or dogmatical character of St. Ignatius' Christianity, and the drift of that theology. The only further question which can be asked is, whether our argument does not prove too much; whether the remarkable coincidence thus resulting between him and the writers of later times is not greater than can be real; and therefore whether it is more than a mere coincidence ingeniously brought to light, and a gratuitous gloss upon his meaning? But this is easily answered by appealing to the historical fact already alluded to, that heresies beset the Church of the first century, which did but re-appear, substantially the same, but in more subtle forms, in the fourth and fifth. It is not wonderful that the mysteries of the faith irritated the reason of unhumbled minds from the beginning; nor to {243} those who have studied the subject will it seem wonderful that it should strive to escape from them by the same methods. There are, in fact, but a few modes of denying the truth, and these were adopted by various sects of the Gnostics in the time of Ignatius, as by Apollinaris and Nestorius in the time of Athanasius and Vincent. That the minute questions debated by later heretics existed before their times, is sufficiently proved even if we confine ourselves to the treatises of Tertullian against Praxeas, and De Carne Christi; but the great work of Irenĉus contra Hĉreses is also evidence to the same effect, not to speak of the various passages to be found in Origen, and the fragments of Hippolytus. However, perhaps the general tone of the Epistles themselves will be considered a most satisfactory proof, if we believe that in any sense they are his, that Ignatius had an eye to heretics in what he wrote, and of his judgment upon them.

"Be not dismayed at those who seem worthy of trust, and yet teach strange doctrine. Stand firm, as the anvil under the stroke; for it is like a great combatant, to be smitten and to conquer."—Pol. § 3.

It is maintained by some persons nowadays, that the early heretics were always of immoral lives, and condemned as such, not for their opinions; to such disputants we recommend the following passage:

"Be not deceived, brethren; those who corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, therefore, they who do this according to the flesh, have suffered death, how much more, if by evil doctrine he corrupt the faith of God," (we have already heard from Ignatius what that faith is,) "for which Jesus Christ was crucified? Such a one has become polluted, and shall go into the fire unquenchable, and so shall he who hearkens to him."—Eph. § 16. [Note 6]. {244}

Again, the following passages would in this day certainly be said to be "uncharitable to the persons" of the heretics designated:

"I beseech you, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, to use only the Christian nourishment, and to abstain from strange herbs, which is heresy ([etis estin airesis]) ... they administer their deadly drug, as it were, in a sweet potion, which whoso is ignorant takes with pleasure, and in it death."—Trall. § 6. "I warn you against wild beasts in human form, whom you ought not only not to receive, but, if possible not even to fall in with; only to pray for them, if peradventure they may repent, which is difficult; but the power is with Jesus Christ, our true life."—Smyrn. § 4.

So speaks a bishop of the first century,—"wild beasts in human form;" have not such terms been somewhere done into English in the nineteenth by the words of "venerable men," men of "inoffensive," "uncontroversial" dispositions?


We have now to proceed to ground, not more sacred indeed than what has formed our subject hitherto, for that cannot be, but which, requiring to be examined more minutely, and in its details, cannot be entered upon without greater risk of unsuitable language. We earnestly hope we shall not transgress the bounds of propriety in our introduction of solemn topics, or forget that we are writing as reviewers, not as divines; yet the line of argument in which we are engaged seems to require that we should allude to a doctrine, which yet we are loth to approach from its peculiar character. {245}

Let then the following expressions of St. Ignatius be observed:

"Being followers of God, and rekindling in the blood of God, ([anazopuresantes en aimati theou],) ye have perfectly accomplished the work connatural to you ([sungenikon ergon])."—Eph. § 1. "These are not the planting of the Father: if they were, they would have appeared to be branches of the Cross, and their fruit would have been incorruptible; by which, in His passion, He invites you His members. The Head then cannot be born without the members, God promising a union ([enosin]), which is Himself."—Trall. § 11. "In which (the Churches) I pray there may be a union ([enosin]) of flesh and spirit with Jesus Christ, who is our Life evermore, in faith and in love which surpasseth all things, but, in the first place, in Jesus and the Father."—Magn. § 1. "Fare ye well in an unanimity of God, possessing a Spirit Indivisible, which is Jesus Christ."—Ibid. § 15. "For this cause did the Lord accept ointment upon His head, that He might breathe incorruption into His Church … Why do we waste away ([apollumetha]) in folly, not considering the gift ([charisma]) which the Lord hath sent in truth?"—Eph. § 17. "(Christ) was born and baptized, that by His passion ([toi pathei]) He might purify water."—Ibid. § 18. "If any one is able to remain in chastity, to the honour of the flesh of the Lord, let him remain also in humbleness."—Pol. § 5. "I have no pleasure in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life; I would have God's bread, heavenly bread, bread of life, which is flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham: and I would have God's draught, His blood, which is love incorruptible, and ever-springing life."—Rom. § 7.

Now it is very remarkable how modern readers receive such passages. They come to them with low notions, they never suspect that they allude to anything which they cannot reach, and being unable to discern any high objects to which such language is appropriate, they pronounce it hyperbolical, or, as sometimes, a corrupt reading. They seem to put it as a dilemma, "either we are blind or St. Ignatius speaks beyond his sense." For instance, a late writer says of some of his statements: {246} "No consideration, either of reason or Scripture, seems to have power for a moment to check the mad career of his turgid and bloated, but often eloquent, declamation; or to deter him from working up his exhortations to the highest pitch of hyperbole." [Note 7] Such a mode of speaking is of course extreme, and argues a want of mere common refinement, to say nothing of modesty and reverence; but even persons who have these qualifications, if possessed of modern ideas, will be disposed to conclude that St. Ignatius was turgid and Asiatic in his diction. Now we cannot deny that he was an Asiatic, and spoke like an Asiatic; so were, and so spoke, Isaiah, St. Paul, and St. John. St John, St. Paul, and Isaiah, have also been supposed to use words without definite meaning, merely because their meaning was beyond the reach of their unscrupulous critics; perhaps the case is the same with Ignatius. Perchance the holy martyr had a range of conceptions which are as remote from the philosophy of this age, as from the mental vision of savages. Perchance his words stood for ideas perfectly well known to him, and recognized by his brethren. If so, it is unjust to him, and unkind to ourselves, for us, modern divines, to reconcile his words to our own ignorance, by imputing to him bombast. This consideration, by the way, may be profitably suggested to all who are in the habit of censuring Church writers of whatever age, as circuitous, wordy, confused, cloudy, and fanciful. They may, doubtless, be all this; perhaps in this particular passage or work they are. Still, the question will arise in the breast of modest inquirers, whether, if one or other party must be in fault, the reader may not possibly be shallow rather than the writer unreal. Now, in the case of St. Ignatius, one remarkable thing is, that, {247} while to a modern Protestant he is so unmeaning, a disciple of Irenĉus, Athanasius, or Cyril of Alexandria, will be in no perplexity at all as to what his words mean, but will see at once a sense, and a deep and sufficient one, in them. If so, thus much would seem to follow: that, whichever party is the more scriptural, anyhow St. Ignatius, the disciple and friend of the sacred writers, is on the side of the Catholics, not of the moderns.

Let us be persuaded to take his words literally, and not think the literal interpretation too strange to be the true one, and we shall come very nearly to a great and sacred doctrine, which, while it exculpates our author from all appearance of turgidity or declamation, has ever been held in the Church Catholic. It would seem then to be certain, that Ignatius considers our life and salvation to lie, not in the Atonement by itself, but in the Incarnation; but neither in the Incarnation nor Atonement as past events, but, as present facts, in an existing mode, in which our Saviour comes to us; or, to speak more plainly, in our Saviour Himself who is God in our flesh, and not only so, but in flesh which has been offered up on the Cross in sacrifice, which has died and has risen. The being made man, the being crucified in atonement, the being raised again, are the three past events to which the Eternal Son has vouchsafed to become to us what He is, a Saviour; and those who omit the Resurrection in their view of the divine economy, are as really defective in faith as if they omitted the Crucifixion. On the Cross He paid the debt of the world, but as He could not have been crucified without first taking flesh, so again He could not, as it would seem, apply His atonement without first rising again. Accordingly, St. Ignatius speaks of our being saved and living not simply in the Atonement, but, as the passages already quoted signify, in the {248} flesh and blood of the risen Lord, first sacrificed for us, then communicated to us. More definite passages than these might be quoted from his Epistles, but let us at first be contented with these. To take the first of them: "rekindling in the blood of God." If this merely means that we are raised to a new life by the Atonement, or merely by the moral effect of the knowledge of the doctrine, it is certainly strained and inflated language; but if it be taken literally, the idea will rise, and the language will sink. If it means what the Church Catholic teaches, that the body and blood of the Word Incarnate is in some real, though unknown way, communicated to our souls and bodies, and thus becomes the principle of a new life, then no words can reach what is intended. So again, when he speaks of a "union with the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ," and of our "possessing an Indivisible Spirit, which is Jesus Christ," he surely speaks of a union with Christ's flesh, which is spirit. Again, when he says, "I would have God's bread, heavenly bread, bread of life, which is flesh of Jesus Christ, I would have God's draught, His blood," if he merely means, I long for the benefits of Christ's death, one could not defend him from the charge of an extravagant use of words. And again, when he says that Christ has "breathed incorruption into His Church," and that the pouring out of the ointment was a sort of preparation or figure for this, unless he is to be taken literally, that there is a real gift or communication, he makes a fact the symbol of a metaphor, which is the very objection commonly and soundly brought against the Socinian comments on the Epistle to the Hebrews. When again he speaks of remaining in chastity "to the honour of our Lord's flesh," if he means, what the words literally imply, that chastity is a reverence paid to the holy and divinely virginal nature which {249} Christ imparts to us from Himself, the sentiment is plain and very awful; otherwise it surely would seem to be a rude and indecorous phrase [Note 8].

If it be objected to a literal interpretation of the phrases in question, that Ignatius, far from so intending, sometimes explains them of moral virtues or graces, as when he speaks of "faith, which is the flesh of the Lord, and love, which is His blood;" of "fleeing to the Gospel, as to the flesh of Jesus Christ," and of His blood, which is love incorruptible," we would answer, that such passages only imply that the supernatural gift includes the moral virtue, or that the virtue or grace consists in the supernatural gift. If, for instance, one says that "a house is a shelter against the weather," or of "our shelter being a house," no one would have any right thence to argue that "house" had no literal sense, and was only a metaphor standing for protection or shelter; the proposition meaning no more than this, that the house is to us shelter, or that shelter lies in having a house.

So far then on the sense of Ignatius as drawn from the literal import of the words themselves; but now let us see what light is thrown on this interpretation by one or two passages from later writers. The phrases, let it be observed, in Ignatius, to be illustrated, are such as these: "breathing incorruption into His Church;" "by {250} His passion purifying water;" "union of flesh and spirit with Christ," and the like; which we conceive to allude to a mysterious communication of our Lord's humanity to Christians, as a principle which renews and purifies the stock of fallen Adam. Let us even suppose that these phrases are in themselves obscure; yet when an author is hard to be understood, it is fair to adduce other authors to illustrate his meaning: is not this what we always do in critical or antiquarian researches? Let us see then whether Athanasius, Gregory, and Cyril, are not thus adducible for Ignatius. For instance, the first-mentioned of the three says:

"When [Adam] disobeyed the commandments of God, he fell under sinful imaginations; not that God created these imaginations which led him captive, but that the devil sowed them by deceit upon man's reason, when in transgression and in alienation from God: so that the devil set up the law of sin in man's nature, and death, which reigns through the work of sin. For this cause, then, came the Son of God, to undo the works of the devil. But you say: He undid them by abstaining from sin Himself. But this is not an undoing of sin, for it was not in Him that the devil originally wrought sin, as if His coming into the world, and not sinning, should undo sin. But the devil wrought sin by sowing it in the reason and intellect of man. Wherefore it became impossible for nature, being possessed of reason, and having sinned of free-will, and being under sentence of death, to reclaim itself into freedom; as the Apostle says, 'This was what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.' Wherefore the Son of God came, by means of Himself, to set it up (the flesh) in His own (divine) nature, from a new beginning and a marvellous generation."—Apoll. ii. § 6.

Or we may take the following passages from Gregory Nazianzen:

"Let us see what the reason is, which [the Apollinarians] assign for Christ's becoming man, or (as they prefer to say) flesh. If it be, that God might be contained in place, being otherwise infinite, {251} and might hold converse with men by the flesh, as by a veil, clever is their mask, and the plot which they enact ... But if He came to undo the condemnation of sin, cleansing each nature by itself, then, as He needed flesh, because flesh had been condemned, and soul, because soul had been condemned, so also He needed the rational principle," (which Apollinaris denied,) "for the sake of the rational principle, which in Adam had not only fallen, but, as physicians speak, was the seat of the disease ([protopathesanta])."—Orat. 51, pp. 742, 743.

The argument urged in these passages against Apollinaris is this: unless the divine nature of the Word was joined to a rational soul, as well as to a human body, our rational soul was not cleansed and renovated as well as our body. Now let attention be paid to this argument; for it is just one of those which are called fanciful and mystical, merely because readers will not take it literally, and mistake the reverence with which a writer words it for indistinctness or confusion of thought. A modern reasoner is tempted to ask, "How does Christ's divine nature, being joined to that particular soul which He vouchsafed to create and make His own, cleanse all human souls? is not this a mere poetical or cloudy way of talking? When it is said that He suffered in soul and body instead of man, that His divine nature gave efficacy to that suffering, and that the Christian's soul and body are pardoned and gifted in consequence, such a statement I can understand, provided that this cleansing means no more than putting away guilt. And "I suppose" (a reasoner may proceed), "I suppose that this is all the Fathers really do mean; only they were not clear-headed, and loved the appearance of mystery and contrivance. They were pious men, but were not above their age; and they encumbered Christian truth with a play of words, because words were their food. They delighted in inventing unreal antitheses, and in {252} pursuing metaphors unfairly, and in discovering causes in mere connexions or coincidences, and in spinning out theories and systems, and in interpreting the words of Prophets and Apostles into pretended allusions to the trivial accidents or remote events of which they themselves were witnesses. Thus because the Eternal Word assumed soul and body, and offered them up in sacrifice, a theory is built up as if that assumption literally hallowed all souls and bodies, not one only. But how can what is done to one, be done to another, except by a figure of speech? and what profit is there in propounding and using against heretics a system of words which have no corresponding realities?" Such is the judgment commonly formed of the Fathers, in consequence of the deep prejudice of this age, which thinks it absolutely impossible that they can literally mean what they say, which is, that, as Adam not only introduced but diffuses death, so Christ diffuses life.

However, one should think that there might be found passages strong enough even to overcome the prejudice, and break through the slumbers, of this generation. Let us see whether St. Cyril of Alexandria is not equal to it. He speaks as follows:

"Christ gave His own body for the life of all, and next He implants ([enoikizei]) into us life by means of it; how, I will say as I can. Since then the life-giving Word of God has inhabited the flesh, He has refashioned it unto His own perfection, which is life; and altogether, being joined to it by an ineffable mode of union ([enosis]), He has set it forth as life-giving, just as He is Himself by nature. Wherefore the body of Christ is life-giving to all who partake; for it expels death, when it is present in those who are dying, and it rids them of corruption, as travailing in itself with that Word which perfectly annuls corruption."—in Joan. iv. p. 354. "In no other way could the nations be rid of the blindness which lay upon them, and behold the divine and holy light, {253} that is, receive the knowledge of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, than by partaking His holy flesh, and washing away ingrained sin, and putting off the rule of the devil; viz., through Holy Baptism. And when the Saviour marked upon the blind man" (viz, in John ix.) "the type of the mystery in anticipation, He at the same time imparted to him the virtue of the participation by the anointing of the spittle. As a figure of Holy Baptism, He bids him to run and wash in Siloam. As then we believe the body of Christ to be life-giving, since it is the temple and dwelling-place of the living God the Word, possessing all His operations, so we say also that it is the supply of illumination. For it is the body of light naturally and really such; and as when He raised the dead man, the only-begotten son of the widow, He did not hold it enough to command alone, and say, 'Young man, I say unto thee arise,' though accustomed to conduct all things which He wishes by a word, but put His hand too upon the bier, showing that His body also has the life-giving energy, so here also" (in John ix.) "He anoints with the spittle, teaching us that His body, even by the merest contact, supplies ([proxenon esti]) illumination."—in Joan. vi. p. 602.

In the above remarks no allusion has been made to any external means or ordained instrument by which the Fathers considered this most sacred and mysterious gift to be imparted, though there was one passage of Ignatius which contained a sufficiently clear allusion to that Rite which the Church has ever accounted the repository of the gift—not to mention other texts which refer to baptism. That passage was where he says, "I would have God's bread, which is flesh of Jesus Christ; I would have God's draught, which is His blood." The following passages are of a still more definite character:

"That ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an entire mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, our antidote against death."—Eph. § 20. "What availeth it me, if any one praiseth me, but blasphemeth my Lord, denying that He bore the flesh ... Even heavenly things and the glory of Angels, and the powers visible and invisible, are condemned if they believe {254} not in the blood of Christ ... These abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not that the Eucharist is flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, which the Father in His mercy raised again. They then, denying the gift of God, perish in their disputings. Well had it been for them to make much of it, that they might rise again."—Smyrn. §§ 5-7. "Endeavour to use one Eucharist; for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup, that His blood may make us one, [eis enosin tou haimatos autou]."—Phil. § 4. "The Gospel hath a special gift; the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion and resurrection. For the beloved prophets brought tidings of Him; but the Gospel is the accomplishment of incorruption."—Ibid. § 9.

In some of these passages a connexion is mentioned as existing between the Eucharist and the gift of the Resurrection or immortality. May not the following passage from Irenĉus, the disciple of Polycarp, who was Ignatius' friend, and (as we now speak) editor of his Epistles, be considered to throw light on his meaning?

"Altogether in error are they who despise the entire dispensation of God in the incarnation of Christ, and deny the salvation of the flesh, and reject its regeneration, saying that it does not admit of being incorruptible. But if the flesh be not saved, then did not the Lord redeem us with His own blood; then is not the cup of the Eucharist the communication of His blood; then is not the bread which we break the communication of His body. For blood is not, except from veins and flesh, and the other parts of man's substance, which the Word of God was truly made ... As the blessed Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, 'We are members of His body, from His flesh and His bones,' not saying this of any spiritual and invisible man," (that is, as the heretics, who explained away the passage,) "but of the constitution of man as he really is, which is made of flesh, and nerves, and bones, which is nourished by His cup, which is His blood, and increased by the bread, which is His body."—Hĉr. v. 2, §§ 2, 3.


We have now said perhaps enough. To draw out fully the case for Catholic doctrine, which this Apostolical {255} Father supplies, would lead us beyond both the literal and moral bounds of a Review. It would be a great service if some divine would put out the text of these Epistles, with a running comment from the Fathers who come after them. It is hardly too much to say that almost the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of them. There are indeed one or two omissions, as if on purpose to prove to us their genuineness; for in a later age these certainly would have been supplied; the chief of which is the scanty notice they contain of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and of baptismal regeneration, which in Ignatius' time were not subjects of controversy. But after all deductions from the completeness of his theological system, let us see what we possess in the course of these seven short compositions. We have, first, the principle of dogmatic faith; next, the doctrine of the Incarnation, almost as theologically laid down as it is in the fourth and fifth centuries; then, that of the dissemination of a new and divine nature in the fallen stock of Adam, and that by means of the Eucharist. So far has been shown above; further we read in them of the divine origin and obligation of the Episcopal regimen; as when he says, "He for whom I am bound is my witness that I have not learned this doctrine from flesh of man; the Spirit proclaimed these words, 'Apart from the bishop do nothing.'"—Phil. § 7. The divine authority of the bishop, as the representative of our unseen Maker and Redeemer, in such words as—"In any delusion of his visible bishop, a man trifles rather with the Bishop invisible; and so, the question is not with flesh, but with God who seeth the secrets."—Magn. § 3. The doctrine of the three orders: as, for instance, "Do all things in a unanimity of God, the {256} bishop holding precedency over you in the place of God, and the presbyters in the place of the council of Apostles, and the deacons, my dearest, entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ."—Ibid. § 6. The doctrine of unity, as when he says, "All that are of God, and Jesus Christ, these are with the bishop; and all that shall repent and turn to the unity of the Church, these also shall be of God."—Phil. § 3. The doctrine of the Church's Catholicity: "The bishops who are stationed at the ends of the earth, are after the mind of Jesus Christ."—Eph. § 3. The diocesan system: "Maintain the honour of thy post," he says to Polycarp, "with all earnestness fleshly and spiritual."—Pol. § 1. The sin of going by individual judgment in matters of faith: "Be not deceived, brethren; whosoever followeth one that creates schism, he inherits not the kingdom of God; whosoever walks by some foreign opinion, he consents not to the passion of Christ."—Phil. § 3. What may be called the sacramental character of unity: "There is one Jesus Christ, who surpasses all things: together therefore haste ye all, as to a temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from one Father, and is in one and to one returned."—Magn. § 7. The consecrating power and authority of bishops over all Church appointments: "Let no one do anything pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop; let that be esteemed a sure Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop or by those to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop is seen, there let the body of believers be; even as where Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. Apart from the bishop, it is lawful neither to baptize, nor to make an agape; but whatever he judges right, that also is well pleasing unto God, that all which is done be safe and sure."—Smyrn. § 8. Again: "It is fitting {257} for parties, who purpose matrimony, to accomplish their union with the sanction of the bishop."—Pol. § 5. And the importance of united prayer.—Trall. § 12. "When ye meet often together in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his deadliness is dissolved by the unanimity of your faith."—Eph. § 13.

To these might be added his implied praise of virginity, and his implied countenance of formal resolves for that purpose, when he says, "If he boasts, he is perishing."—Pol. § 5; see also Smyrn. § 13. Apparently, too, his recognition of what has since been called the disciplina arcani.—Trall. § 5; of what has also been called the Limbus PatrumMagn. § 9; of the Lord's Day—ib.; of the acceptableness of good works—Pol. § 6; of grace as inherent, not merely external—Eph. title; of ecclesiastical councils—Pol. § 7; of departed saints remembering or at least benefiting us—Trall. § 13 [Note 9]; and of communion with them in life and death.—Eph. § 12: and not least important, as throwing a light on all that has been said by the contrast, his hatred and condemnation of Judaism—Magn. § 10; Phil. § 6. However, it requires no great sagacity to anticipate that some readers, before they get to the end of this list, may accuse, not us, for we are but stating apparent facts, but our venerable author, of "popery;"—such suspicion we shall leave to die away, as it assuredly will, when theological science is better understood. "Popery," it cannot be too often repeated, is the corruption of these and other true or probable doctrines; and so unnecessary and headstrong has been our opposition during the last hundred and fifty years to the corruption, that we have mistaken, and given "Popery" the advantage of our mistaking, what are Catholic doctrines or opinions for it. {258}


Dismissing this misapprehension, against which we are not bound to do more here than to protest, we invite attention to the remarkable phenomenon which these celebrated Epistles present. Are they genuine? Are they but genuine on the whole? Are they genuine all but certain incidental corruptions which cannot now be detected? Let it be granted only as far as this, that the substance of them is what Ignatius wrote,—and those who deny this may wrestle, as they best can, with the greater difficulties in which they will find themselves,—and is any further witness wanting to prove that the Catholic system, not in an inchoate state, not in doubtful dawnings, not in mere tendencies, or in implicit teaching, or in temper, or in surmises, but in a definite, complete, and dogmatic form, was the religion of St. Ignatius; and if so, where in the world did he come by it? How came he to lose, to blot out from his mind, the true Gospel, if this was not it? How came he to possess this, except it be apostolic? One does not know which, of the two, to be most struck with,—his precise unhesitating tone, or the compass of doctrine he goes through; the latter, however, has this peculiar force, which the former has not, that it quite cuts off the suspicion, if any lingers on the mind, that the conciseness with which his sentiments are conveyed has given opportunity for their being practised on by theologians, and tortured into Church meanings which they really have not. Granting that, by a mere coincidence, some one form of words in his Epistles might have been misinterpreted into an apparent countenance of some later doctrine, or that some one word like [thusiasterion] or [eucharistia] might be laden with a sense which came in later, it is quite impossible, surely, that so great a number of {259} coincidences should have occurred, that so many distinct doctrines, afterwards existing in the Church, should accidentally find a place, find form of words capable of denoting them, and used afterwards to denote them, in so short a document. Either the Epistles of St. Ignatius have been the document from which the Church system has been historically developed, which no one maintains, or the Church system is the basis on which St. Ignatius wrote his Epistles. No other alternative presents itself except that of denying their genuineness. It is a curious speculation, whether, in the progress of controversy, divines who are determined at all risks not to admit the Church system, will not fall back upon it. Stranger things have happened.

A representation of another kind has lately been attempted, which even if it were true as a statement, would be impotent as an argument. Efforts have been made to disparage the personal qualifications of the writer. We cannot congratulate the parties engaged on the happiness of their attempt. They have indeed undertaken an odious work without any possible remuneration. What can it profit them, though they were ever so able to show, what is the utmost that is attempted, that St. Ignatius had an inflated style, or that he was excited in the immediate prospect of martyrdom? Does bad taste in writing make a person incapable of receiving and holding Gospel truth? Or could the expectation of torments and death make him forget what he had heard from the Apostles, suggest to him a new Gospel, open upon him an original range of ideas, stamp them on his memory, make him think that his brethren held them, and make them also cherish and preserve this new doctrine as if that which the Apostles had taught both him and them, and persuade Polycarp {260} also to edit the record of it? nay, moreover (supposing all these marvels), make him prophetic, so that he should anticipate, in almost all its parts, a system which, on the hypothesis of these objectors, came into the Church in the lapse of after centuries, from Jewish, Pagan, and philosophical sources? That from these sources the doctrines and practices of Catholics were afterwards in a measure corrupted, no one denies; and the correspondence in many cases between the heathen rite or philosophical dogma and the Christian, favoured the corruption. Thus Platonism might corrupt the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century into Arianism, and Paganism the love-feasts in the fifth; but it is quite another thing to say, with Faustus the Manichean, that therefore Paganism brought in the Agape, or, with Dr. Priestley, that philosophy brought in the doctrine of the Trinity; and what is not true in the case of this usage and this doctrine, need not be true either, and at least must not be assumed as true, of other doctrines and rites, which nevertheless may have been corrupted. Now the great value of St. Ignatius' Epistles in the controversy is, that their date is prior to the earliest date which can be alleged with any plausibility for the rise of these supposed corruptions. Justin Martyr certainly had been instructed in the Greek philosophy; but what had Ignatius to do with Aristotle or Plato? Does any one pretend that there is any connexion, however remote, between him and the schools of Athens? Does his history, parentage, language, or style, betray it? Granting, for argument's sake, that the springs of truth were poisoned at Alexandria by Clement and Origen, nay, poisoned everywhere, at once, in one and the same way, and without historical traces of the catastrophe, yet who shall venture to assert, in the fullest licence or {261} rather tyranny of conjecture, that St. Ignatius, the contemporary and disciple of Apostles, and an Asiatic, was perverted, by causes unknown, to teach as apostolic a false doctrine, and, when travelling to martyrdom, to confess it repeatedly and consistently to churches which had not lost St. John's guidance above half a dozen years? Surely it is impossible. Give us, then, but St. Ignatius, and we want nothing more to prove the substantial truth of the Catholic system; the proof of the genuineness and authenticity of the Bible is not stronger; he who rejects the one, ought in consistency to reject the other.

And if the Catholic system, as a system, is brought so near to the Apostles; if it is proved to have existed as a paramount thought and a practical principle in the minds of their immediate disciples and associates, it becomes a very grave question, on this ground alone, waving altogether the consideration of uninterrupted Catholic consent, and the significant structure and indirect teaching of Scripture, whether the New Testament is not to be interpreted in accordance with that system. If indeed Scripture actually refuses to be so interpreted, then indeed we may be called on to suspend our judgment; but if only its text is not inconsistent with the Church system, there is surely greater reason for interpreting it in accordance with it than not; for it is surely more unaccountable that a new Gospel should have possessed the Church, and that, in the persons of its highest authorities, and almost in the lifetime and presence of Apostles, than that their extant writings should not have upon their surface the whole of Scripture truth. And thus we take our leave of St. Ignatius.

January, 1839.

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Note on Essay VI

{262} IN the foregoing Essay it was assumed that the controversy of the seventeenth century, on the subject of St. Ignatius' Epistles, in which Pearson bore so distinguished a part, had issued in a plain proof of the substantial genuineness of the text of the Medicean and Colbertine MSS. And it was inferred from this as a premiss, that apostolic Christianity was of a distinctly dogmatic character, it being impossible for those who resisted this inference to succeed in explaining away the text of Ignatius, as those MSS. contain it, and only open to them to take refuge in a denial of the premiss, that is, of the genuineness of that text. Then it was added as to such denial, "It is a curious speculation whether, in the progress of controversy, divines, who are determined at all risks not to admit the Church system, will not fall back upon it;—stranger things have happened."

So I wrote in 1838, and what I then anticipated has actually taken place since, though not in the way that I anticipated it. I did not fancy that the controversy would have been revived on grounds both new, and certainly at first sight plausible, as has been the case. Those new grounds do not change my own judgment on the matter in dispute; but they have a real claim to be taken into consideration.

[This was done in a paper, which in former editions was placed here, but has now been transposed to "Theological Tracts."]

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. The Christian Year.
Return to text

2. [kat' oikonomian]. Here is an additional word, which afterwards is known to have a technical meaning.
Return to text

3. Athan. in Apollin., i. 16; Naz. Orat., li. p. 741; Epiph. Ancor., 77; Leont. frand. Apollin., p. 489; Max. Dial., iv. 5.
Return to text

4. Vide also Epiph. Ancor., 121; Theod. Hist., v. 9; and Confessions in Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth General Councils. In like manner, our second Article speaks of "two whole and perfect natures."
Return to text

5. Vide Socr. Hist., viii. 32; Gailand, Bibi. P., t. 14, Append., p. 87.
Return to text

6. [St. Ignatius speaks of those who had known the truth and left it (as St. Peter, about the immoral sects, in the terrible words, "It had been better for them not to have known," etc.), not of those who are born and educated in error, and never had reason to doubt about what they had received.]
Return to text

7. Osburn, Errors, p. 191.
Return to text

8. [eis timen tou kuriou tes sarkos]. Commentators confess themselves perplexed. Voss asks, "Quid sibi vult, rogo, in castitate in honorem carnis dominicĉ? otiosis hĉc interpretanda relinquo." He proceeds to say, that he is certain that the word [sarkos] has got transposed, and that we ought to read [en hagneiai tes sarkos menein eis timen tou kuriou]. Mr. Jacobson assents. Mr. Chevallier translates, "to the honour of Him who is the Lord of all flesh:" omit the "all," which is not in the Greek, and the sense which we have expressed above is substantially conveyed whether by "the flesh of the Lord," or by "the Lord of the flesh."
Return to text

9. Vide Pearson's note in loco.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright İ 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.