THE EPISTLES OF IGNATIUS — THE EPISTLE OF POLYCARP
ALTHOUGH in reality appertaining to a very much later period, we shall here refer to the so-called "Epistles of Ignatius," and examine any testimony which they afford regarding the date and authenticity of our Gospels. There are in all fifteen Epistles bearing the name of Ignatius; three of these, addressed to the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John (2), exist only in a Latin version, and these, together with five others directed to Mary of Cassobola, to the Tarsians, to the Antiochans, to Hero of Antioch, and to the Philippians, of which there are versions both in Greek and Latin, are universally admitted to be spurious, and may, so far as their contents are concerned, be at once dismissed from all consideration. They are not mentioned by Eusebius, nor does any early writer refer to them. Of the remaining seven Epistles, addressed to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, there are two distinct versions extant: one long version, of which there are both Greek and Latin texts; and another much shorter, and presenting considerable variations, of which there are also both Greek and Latin texts. After a couple of centuries of discussion, critics, almost without exception, have finally agreed that the longer version is nothing more than an interpolated version of the shorter and more ancient form of the Epistles. The question regarding the authenticity of the Ignatian Epistles, however, was re-opened and complicated by the publication in 1845, by Dr. Cureton, of a Syriac version of three Epistles only -- to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans -- in a still shorter form, discovered amongst a large number of MSS. purchased by Dr. Tattam from the monks of the Desert of Nitria. These three Syriac Epistles have been subjected to the severest scrutiny, and many of the ablest critics have pronounced them to be the only authentic Epistles of Ignatius, whilst others, who do not admit that even these are genuine letters emanating from Ignatius, still prefer them to the version of seven Greek Epistles, and consider them the most ancient form of the letters which we possess. As early as the sixteenth century, however, the strongest doubts were expressed regarding the authenticity of any of the Epistles ascribed to Ignatius. The Magdeburg Centuriators first attacked them, and Calvin declared them to be spurious, an opinion fully shared by Daillé and others; Chemnitz regarded them with suspicion; and similar doubts, more or less definite, were expressed throughout the seventeenth century, and onward to comparatively recent times, although the means of forming a judgment were not then so complete as now. That the Epistles were interpolated there was no doubt. Fuller examination and more comprehensive knowledge of the subject have confirmed earlier doubts, and a large mass of critics has either recognised that the authenticity of none of these Epistles can be established, or that they can only be considered later and spurious compositions.
Omitting for the present the so-called Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, the earliest reference to any of these Epistles, or to Ignatius himself, is made by Irenaeus, who quotes a passage which is found in the Epistle to the Romans (ch. 4), without, however, any mention of name, introduced by the following words: "As a certain man of ours said, being condemned to the wild beasts on account of his testimony to God: 'I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of beasts I am ground, that I may be found pure bread.'" [159:1] Origen likewise quotes two brief sentences which he refers to Ignatius. The first is merely: "But my love is crucified," [159:2] which is likewise found in the Epistle to the Romans (ch. 7); and the other quoted as "out of one of the Epistles" of the martyr Ignatius: "From the Prince of this world was concealed the virginity of Mary," [159:3] which is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians (ch. 19). Eusebius mentions seven Epistles, [159:4] and quotes one passage from the Epistle to the Romans (ch. 5), and a few words from an apocryphal Gospel contained in the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (ch. 3), the source of which he says that he does not know, and he cites from Irenaeus the brief quotation given above, and refers to the mention of the Epistles in the letter of Polycarp, which we reserve. Elsewhere [159:5] he further quotes a short sentence found in the Epistle to the Ephesians (ch. 19), part of which had previously been cited by Origen. It will be observed that all these quotations, with the exception of that from Irenaeus, are taken from the three Epistles which exist in the Syriac translation, and they are found in that version; and the first occasion on which any passage attributed to Ignatius is quoted which is not in the Syriac version of the three Epistles occurs in the second half of the fourth century, when Athanasius, in his Epistle regarding the Synods of Ariminum and Selucia, [160:1] quotes a few words from the Epistle to the Ephesians (ch. 7); but, although foreign to the Syriac text, it is to be noted that the words are at least from a form of one of the three Epistles which exist in that version. It is a fact, therefore, that up to the second half of the fourth century no quotation ascribed to Ignatius, except one by Eusebius, exists, which is not found in the three short Syriac letters.
As we have already remarked, the Syriac version of the three Epistles is very much shorter than the shorter Greek version; the Epistle to the Ephesians for instance, being only about one-third of the length of the Greek text. Those who still maintain the superior authenticity of the Greek shorter version argue that the Syriac is an epitome of the Greek. This does not, however, seem tenable when the matter is carefully examined. Although so much is absent from the Syriac version, not only is there no interruption of the sense, and no obscurity or undue curtness in the style, but the Epistles read more consecutively, without faults of construction or grammar; and passages which in the Greek text were confused, and almost unintelligible, have become quite clear in the Syriac. The interpolations of the text, in fact, had been so clumsily made that they had obscured the meaning, and their mere omission, without any other alteration of grammatical construction, has restored the epistles to clear and simple order. It is, moreover, a remarkable fact that the passages which, long before the discovery of the Syriac epistles, were pointed out as chiefly determining that the epistles were spurious, are not found in the Syriac version at all. Archbishop Usher, who only admitted the authenticity of six epistles, showed that much interpolation of these letters took place in the sixth century; [160:2] but this very fact increases the probability of much earlier interpolation also, to which the various existing versions most clearly point. The interpolations can be explained upon the most palpable dogmatic grounds, but not so the omissions upon the hypothesis that the Syriac version is an abridgment made upon any distinct dogmatic principle, for that which is allowed to remain renders the omissions ineffectual for dogmatic reasons. There is no ground of interest, therefore, upon which the portions omitted and retained by the Syriac version can be intelligently explained. Finally, here, we may mention that the MSS. of the three Syriac epistles are more ancient by some centuries than those of any of the Greek versions of the Seven epistles. [160:3] The strongest internal as well as other evidence, into which space forbids our going in detail, has led the majority of critics to recognise the Syriac version as the most ancient form of the letters of Ignatius extant, and this is admitted by many of those who nevertheless deny the authenticity of any of the epistles. [161:1]
Seven Epistles have been selected out of fifteen extant, all equally purporting to be by Ignatius, simply because only that number was mentioned by Eusebius, from whom, for the first time in the fourth century, except the general reference in the so-called Epistle of Polycarp, to which we shall presently refer, we hear of them. Now, neither the silence of Eusebius regarding the eight Epistles, nor his mention of the seven, can have much weight in deciding the question of their authenticity. The only point which is settled by the reference of Eusebius is that, at the date at which he wrote, seven Epistles were known to him which were ascribed to Ignatius. He evidently knew little or nothing regarding the man or the Epistles beyond what he had learnt from themselves, and he mentions the martyr-journey to Rome as a mere report: "It is said that he was conducted from Syria to Rome to be cast to wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ." [161:2] It would be unreasonable to argue that no other Epistles existed simply because Eusebius did not mention them; and, on the other hand, it would be still more unreasonable to affirm that the seven Epistles are authentic merely because Eusebius, in the fourth century -- that is to say, some two centuries after they are supposed to have been written -- had met with them. Does anyone believe the letter of Jesus to Abgarus, Prince of Edessa, to be genuine because Eusebius inserts it in his history [161:3] as an authentic document out of the public records of the city of Edessa? There is, in fact, no evidence that the brief quotations of Irenaeus and Origen are taken from either of the extant Greek versions of the Epistles; for, as we have mentioned, they exist in the Syriac Epistles, and there is nothing to show the original state of the letters from which they were derived. Nothing is more certain than the fact that, if any writer wished to circulate letters in the name of Ignatius, he would insert such passages as were said to have been quoted from genuine Epistles of Ignatius, and, supposing those quotations to be real, all that could be inferred on finding such passages would be that, at least, so much might be genuine. It is a total mistake to suppose that the seven Epistles mentioned by Eusebius have been transmitted to us in any special way. These Epistles are mixed up in the Medicean and corresponding ancient Latin MSS. with the other eight Epistles, universally announced to be spurious, without distinction of any kind, and all have equal honour. The recognition of the number seven may, therefore, be ascribed simply to the reference to them by Eusebius, and his silence regarding the rest.
What, then, is the position of the so-called Ignatian Epistles? Towards the end of the second century, Irenaeus makes a very short quotation from a source unnamed, which Eusebius, in the fourth century, finds in an Epistle attributed to Ignatius. Origen, in the third century, quotes a very few words, which he ascribes to Ignatius, although without definite reference to any particular Epistle; and in the fourth century Eusebius mentions seven Epistles ascribed to Ignatius. There is no other evidence. There are, however, fifteen Epistles extant attributed to Ignatius, of all of which, with the exception of three which are only known in a Latin version, we possess both Greek and Latin versions. Of seven of these Epistles -- and they are those mentioned by Eusebius -- we have two Greek versions, one of which is very much shorter than the other; and, finally, we now possess a Syriac version of three Epistles only, in a form still shorter than the shorter Greek version, in which are found all the quotations of the Fathers, without exception, up to the fourth century. Eight of the fifteen Epistles are universally rejected as spurious. The longer Greek version of the remaining seven Epistles is almost unanimously condemned as grossly interpolated; and the majority of critics recognise that the shorter Greek version is also much interpolated; whilst the Syriac version, which so far as MSS. are concerned is by far the most ancient text of any of the letters which we possess, reduces their number to three, and their contents to a very small compass. It is not surprising that the majority of critics have expressed doubt more or less strong regarding the authenticity of all of these Epistles, and that so large a number have repudiated them altogether. One thing is quite evident, that amidst such a mass of falsification, interpolation, and fraud, the Ignatian Epistles cannot, in any form, be considered evidence on any important point.
These doubts, however, have been intensified by consideration of the circumstances under which the Ignatian Epistles are represented as having been composed. They profess to have been written by Ignatius during his journey from Antioch to Rome, in the custody of Roman soldiers, in order to be exposed to wild beasts, the form of martyrdom to which he had been condemned. The writer describes the circumstances of his journey as follows: "From Syria even unto Rome I fight with wild beasts, by sea and by land, by night and day; being bound amongst ten leopards, which are the band of soldiers, who, even receiving benefits, become worse." [163:1] Now, if this account be in the least degree true, how is it possible to suppose that the martyr could have found means to write so many long Epistles, entering minutely into dogmatic teaching, and expressing the most deliberate and advanced views regarding ecclesiastical government? Indeed, it may be asked why Ignatius should have considered it necessary in such a journey, even if the possibility be for a moment conceded, to address such Epistles to communities and individuals to whom, by the showing of the letters themselves, he had just had opportunities of addressing his counsels in person. The Epistles themselves bear none of the marks of composition under such circumstances, and it is impossible to suppose that soldiers, such as the quotation above describes, would allow a prisoner, condemned to wild beasts for professing Christianity, deliberately to write long Epistles at every stage of his journey, promulgating the very doctrines for which he was condemned. And not only this, but on his way to martyrdom, he has, according to the Epistles, [163:2] perfect freedom to see his friends. He receives the bishops, deacons, and members of various Christian communities, who come with greetings to him, and devoted followers accompany him on his journey. All this without hindrance from the "ten leopards," of whose cruelty he complains, and without persecution or harm to those who so openly declare themselves his friends and fellow-believers. The whole story is absolutely incredible.
Against these objections Dr. Lightfoot advances arguments, derived from Zahn, regarding the Roman procedure in cases that are said to be "known." These cases, however, are neither analogous nor have they the force which is assumed. That Christians imprisoned for their religious belief should receive their nourishment, while in prison, from friends, is anything but extraordinary, and that bribes should secure access to them in many cases, and some mitigation of suffering, is possible. The case of Ignatius, however, is very different. If the meaning of oi kai euergetoumenoi cheirous ginontai be that, although receiving bribes, the "ten leopards" only became more cruel, the very reverse of the leniency and mild treatment ascribed to the Roman procedure is described by the writer himself as actually taking place, and certainly nothing approaching a parallel to the correspondence of pseudo-Ignatius can be pointed out in any known instance. The case of Saturus and Perpetua, even if true, is no confirmation, the circumstances being very different; [164:1] but, in fact, there is no evidence whatever that the extant history was written by either of them, [164:2] but, on the contrary, every reason to believe that it was not.
Dr. Lightfoot advances the instance of Paul as a case in point of a Christian prisoner treated with great consideration, and who "writes letters freely, receives visits from his friends, communicates with churches and individuals as he desires." [164:3] It is scarcely possible to imagine two cases more dissimilar than those of pseudo-Ignatius and Paul as narrated in the "Acts of the Apostles," although doubtless the story of the former has been framed upon some of the lines of the latter. Whilst Ignatius is condemned to be cast to the wild beasts as a Christian, Paul is not condemned at all, but stands in the position of a Roman citizen, rescued from infuriated Jews (Acts 23:27), repeatedly declared by his judges to have done nothing worthy of death or of bonds (25:25; 26:31), and who might have been set at liberty but that he had appealed to Caesar (25:11 f., 26:32). His position was one which secured the sympathy of the Roman soldiers. Ignatius "fights with beasts from Syria even unto Rome," and is cruelly treated by his "ten leopards"; but Paul is represented as receiving very different treatment. Felix commands that his own people should be allowed to come and minister to him (24:23), and when the voyage is commenced it is said that Julius, who had charge of Paul, treated him courteously, and gave him liberty to go to see his friends at Sidon (27:3). At Rome he was allowed to live by himself with a single soldier to guard him (28:16), and he continued for two years in his own hired house (28:28). These circumstances are totally different from those under which the Epistles of Ignatius are said to have been written.
"But the most powerful testimony," Dr. Lightfoot goes on to say, "is derived from the representations of a heathen writer." [164:4] The case of Peregrinus, to which he refers, seems to us even more unfortunate than that of Paul. Of Peregrinus himself, historically, we really know little or nothing, for the account of Lucian is scarcely received by anyone as serious. Lucian narrates that this Peregrinus Proteus, a cynic philosopher, having been guilty of parricide and other crimes, found it convenient to leave his own country. In the course of his travels he fell in with Christians and learnt their doctrines, and, according to Lucian, the Christians soon were mere children in his hands, so that he became in his own person "prophet, high priest, and ruler of a synagogue"; and, further, "they spoke of him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and elected him as their chief man." [165:1] After a time he was put in prison for his new faith, which, Lucian says, was a real service to him afterwards in his impostures. During the time he was in prison he is said to have received those services from Christians which Dr. Lightfoot quotes. Peregrinus was subsequently set at liberty by the Governor of Syria, who loved philosophy, [165:2] and travelled about, living in great comfort at the expense of the Christians, until at last they quarrelled, in consequence, Lucian thinks, of his eating some forbidden food. Finally, Peregrinus ended his career by throwing himself into the flames of a funeral pile during the Olympian games. An earthquake is said to have taken place at the time; a vulture flew out from the pile, crying out with a human voice; and shortly after Peregrinus rose again, and appeared clothed in white raiment, unhurt by the fire.
Now, this writing, of which we have given the barest sketch, is a direct satire upon Christians, or even, as Baur affirms, "a parody of the history of Jesus." [165:3] There are no means of ascertaining that any of the events of the Christian career of Peregrinus were true; but it is obvious that Lucian's policy was to exaggerate the facility of access to prisoners, as well as the assiduity and attention of the Christians to Peregrinus, the ease with which they were duped being the chief point of the satire.
There is another circumstance which must be mentioned. Lucian's account of Peregrinus is claimed by supporters of the Ignatian Epistles as evidence for them. [165:4] "The singular correspondence in this narrative with the account of Ignatius, combined with some striking coincidences of expression," they argue, show "that Lucian was acquainted with the Ignatian history, if not with the Ignatian letters." These are the words of Dr. Lightfoot, although he guards himself, in referring to this argument, by the words, "if it be true," and does not express his own opinion; but he goes on to say: "At all events it is conclusive for the matter in hand, as showing that Christian prisoners were treated in the very way described in these Epistles." [165:5] On the contrary, it is in no case conclusive of anything. If it were true that Lucian employed, as the basis of his satire, the Ignatian Epistles and Martyrology, it is clear that his narrative cannot be used as independent testimony for the truth of the statements regarding the treatment of Christian prisoners. On the other hand, as this cannot be shown, his story remains a mere satire, with very little historical value. Apart from all this, however, the case of Peregrinus, a man confined in prison for a short time, under a favourable governor, and not pursued with any severity, is no parallel to that of Ignatius, condemned ad bestias, and, according to his own express statement, cruelly treated by the "ten leopards"; and, further, the liberty of pseudo-Ignatius must greatly have exceeded all that is said of Peregrinus, if he was able to write such Epistles, and hold such free intercourse as they represent.
There seems to be good reason for believing that Ignatius was not sent to Rome at all, but suffered martyrdom in Antioch itself on the 20th December A.D. 115, being condemned to be cast to wild beasts in the amphitheatre, in consequence of the fanatical excitement produced by the earthquake which occurred on the 13th of that month. There are no less than three martyrologies of Ignatius giving an account of the martyr's supposed journey from Antioch to Rome, but these can have no weight, as they are all recognised to be mere idle legends, of whose existence we do not hear till a very late period.
We shall briefly state the case for holding that the martyrdom took place in Antioch, and not in Rome. The Ignatian Epistles and martyrologies set forth that, during a general persecution of Christians, in Syria at least, Ignatius was condemned by Trajan, when he wintered in Antioch during the Parthian War, to be taken to Rome and cast to wild beasts in the amphitheatre. When we inquire whether these facts are supported by historical data, the reply is emphatically adverse. All that is known of the treatment of Christians during the reign of Trajan, as well as of the character of the Emperor, is opposed to the supposition that Ignatius could have been condemned by Trajan himself, or even by a provincial governor, to be taken to Rome and there cast to the beasts. It is well known that, under Trajan, there was no general persecution of Christians, although there may have been instances in which prominent members of the body were either punished or fell victims to popular fury and superstition. [166:1] An instance of this kind was the martyrdom of Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, reported by Hegesippus. He was not condemned ad bestias, however, and much less deported to Rome for the purpose. Why should Ignatius have been so exceptionally treated? In fact, even during the persecutions under Marcus Aurelius, although Christians in Syria were frequently enough cast to the beasts, there is no instance recorded in which anyone condemned to this fate was sent to Rome. Such a sentence is quite at variance with the clement character of Trajan and his principles of government. Neander, in a passage quoted by Baur, says: "As he (Trajan), like Pliny, considered Christianity mere fanaticism, he also probably thought that if severity were combined with clemency, if too much noise were not made about it, the open demonstration not left unpunished, but also minds not stirred up by persecution, fanatical enthusiasm would more easily cool down, and the matter by degrees come to an end." [167:1] This was certainly the policy which mainly characterised his reign. Now, not only would such a severe sentence have been contrary to such principles, but the agitation excited would have been enormously increased by sending the martyr a long journey by land through Asia, and allowing him to pass through some of the principal cities, hold constant intercourse with the various Christian communities, and address long epistles to them. With the fervid desire for martyrdom then prevalent, such a journey would have been a triumphal progress, spreading everywhere excitement and enthusiasm. It may not be out of place, as an indication of the results of impartial examination, to point out that Neander's inability to accept the Ignatian epistles largely rests on his disbelief of the whole tradition of this sentence and martyr-journey. "We do not recognise the Emperor Trajan in this narrative" (the martyrology), he says, "therefore cannot but doubt everything which is related by this document, as well as that, during this feign, Christians can have been cast to the wild beasts." [167:2]
If, for a moment, we suppose that, instead of being condemned by Trajan himself, Ignatius received his sentence from a provincial governor, the story does not gain greater probability. It is not credible that such an official would have ventured to act so much in opposition to the spirit of the Emperor's government. Besides, if such a governor did pronounce so severe a sentence, why did he not execute it in Antioch? Why send the prisoner to Rome? By doing so he made all the more conspicuous a severity which was not likely to be pleasing to the clement Trajan. The cruelty which dictated a condemnation ad bestias would have been more gratified by execution on the spot. The transport to Rome is in no case credible, and the utmost that can be admitted is that Ignatius, like Simeon of Jerusalem, may have been condemned to death during this reign, more especially if the event be associated with some sudden outbreak of superstitious fury against the Christians, to which the martyr may at once have fallen a victim. We are not without indications of such a cause operating in the case of Ignatius.
It is generally admitted that the date of Trajan's visit to Antioch is A.D. 115, when he wintered there during the Parthian war. An earthquake occurred on the 13th of December of that year, which was well calculated to excite popular superstition. It may not be out of place to quote here the account of the earthquake given by Dean Milman, who, although he mentions a different date, and adheres to the martyrdom in Rome, still associates the condemnation of Ignatius with the earthquake. He says: "Nevertheless, at that time there were circumstances which account with singular likelihood for that sudden outburst of persecution in Antioch ... At this very time an earthquake, more than usually terrible and destructive, shook the cities of the East. Antioch suffered its most appalling ravages -- Antioch, crowded with the legionaries prepared for the Emperor's invasion of the East, with ambassadors and tributary kings from all parts of the East. The city shook through all its streets; houses, palaces, theatres, temples fell crashing down. Many were killed: the Consul Pedo died of his hurts. The Emperor himself hardly escaped through a window, and took refuge in the Circus, where he passed some days in the open air. Whence this terrible blow but from the wrath of the Gods, who must be appeased by unusual sacrifices? This was towards the end of January; early in February the Christian Bishop, Ignatius, was arrested. We know how, during this century, at every period of public calamity, whatever that calamity might be, the cry of the panic-stricken Heathens was, 'The Christians to the lions!' It may be that, in Trajan's humanity, in order to prevent a general massacre by the infuriated populace, or to give greater solemnity to the sacrifice, the execution was ordered to take place, not in Antioch, but in Rome." [168:1] These reasons, on the contrary, render execution in Antioch infinitely more probable. To continue, however: the earthquake occurred on the 13th, and the martyrdom of Ignatius took place on the 20th of December, just a week after the earthquake. His remains, as we know from Chrysostom and others, were interred at Antioch. The natural inference is that the martyrdom, the only part of the Ignatian story which is credible, occurred not in Rome, but in Antioch itself, in consequence of the superstitious fury against the atheoi aroused by the earthquake.
We must now go more into the details of the brief statements just made, and here we come to John Malalas. In the first place he mentions the occurrence of the earthquake on the 13th of December. We shall quote Dr. Lightfoot's own rendering of his further important narrative. He says: "The words of John Malalas are:
'The same king Trajan was residing in the same city (Antioch) when the visitation of God (i.e., the earthquake) occurred. And at that time the holy Ignatius, the bishop of the city of Antioch, was martyred (or bore testimony, emartyrêse) before him (epi autou); for he was exasperated against him because he reviled him.'" [169:1]
Dr. Lightfoot endeavours in every way to discredit this statement. He argues that Malalas tells foolish stories about other matters, and, therefore, is not to be believed here; but so simple a piece of information may well be correctly conveyed by a writer who elsewhere may record stupid traditions. [169:2] If the narrative of foolish stories and fabulous traditions is to exclude belief in everything else stated by those who relate them, the whole of the Fathers are disposed of at one fell swoop, for they all do so. Then Dr. Lightfoot actually makes use of the following extraordinary argument to explain away the statement of Malalas:
"But it may be worth while adding that the error of Malalas is capable of easy explanation. He has probably misinterpreted some earlier authority, whose language lent itself to misinterpretation. The words martyrein, martyria, which were afterwards used especially of martyrdom, had in the earlier ages a wider sense, including other modes of witnessing to the faith: the expression epi Traianou again is ambiguous and might denote either 'during the reign of Trajan' or 'in the presence of Trajan.' A blundering writer like Malalas might have stumbled over either expression." [169:3]
It would be difficult, indeed, to show that the words martyrein, martyria, already used in that sense in the New Testament, were not, at the date at which any record of the martyrdom of Ignatius which Malalas could have had before him was written, employed to express martyrdom when applied to such a case, as Dr. Lightfoot, indeed, has in the first instance rendered the phrase. Even Zahn, whom Dr. Lightfoot so implicitly follows, emphatically decides against him on both points. "The epi autou together with tote can only signify 'coram Trajano' ('in the presence of Trajan'), and emartyrêse only the execution." [169:4] Let anyone simply read over Dr. Lightfoot's own rendering, which we have quoted above, and he will see that Malalas seems excellently well, and directly, to have interpreted his earlier authority.
That the statement of Malalas does not agree with the reports of the Fathers is no real objection, for we have good reason to believe that none of them had information from any other source than the Ignatian Epistles themselves, or tradition. Eusebius evidently had not. Irenaeus, Origen, and some later Fathers tell us nothing about him. Jerome and Chrysostom clearly take their accounts from these sources. Malalas is the first who, by his variation, proves that he had another and different authority before him, and, in abandoning the martyr-journey to Rome, his account has infinitely greater apparent probability. Malalas lived at Antioch, which adds some weight to his statement. It is objected that so, also, did Chrysostom, and at an earlier period, and yet he repeats the Roman story. This, however, is no valid argument against Malalas. Chrysostom was too good a Churchman to doubt the story of Epistles so much tending to edification, which were in wide circulation, and had been quoted by earlier Fathers. It is in no way surprising that, some two centuries and a half after the martyrdom, he should quietly have accepted the representations of the Epistles purporting to have been written by the martyr himself, and that their story should have shaped the prevailing tradition.
The remains of Ignatius, as we are informed by Chrysostom and Jerome, long remained interred in the cemetery of Antioch, but finally -- in the time of Theodosius, it is said -- were translated with great pomp and ceremony to a building which, such is the irony of events, had previously been a Temple of Fortune. The story told, of course, is that the relics of the martyr had been carefully collected in the Coliseum and carried from Rome to Antioch. After reposing there for some centuries, the relics, which are said to have been transported from Rome to Antioch, were, about the seventh century, carried back from Antioch to Rome. [170:1] The natural and more simple conclusion is that, instead of this double translation, the bones of Ignatius had always remained in Antioch, where he had suffered martyrdom, and the tradition that they had been brought back from Rome was merely the explanation which reconciled the fact of their actually being in Antioch with the legend of the Ignatian Epistles.
The 20th of December is the date assigned to the death of Ignatius in the Martyrology, [170:2] and Zahn admits that this interpretation is undeniable. [170:3] Moreover, the anniversary of his death was celebrated on that day in the Greek churches and throughout the East. In the Latin Church it is kept on the 1st of February. There can be little doubt that this was the day of the translation of the relics to Rome, and this was evidently the view of Ruinart, who, although he could not positively contradict the views of his own Church, says: "Ignatii festum Graeci vigesima die mensis Decembris celebrant, quo ipsum passum fuisse Acta testantur; Latini vero die prima Februaiii, an ob aliquam sacrarum ejus reliquiarum translationem? Plures enim fuisse constat." [171:1] Zahn [171:2] states that the Feast of the translation in later calendars was celebrated on the 29th of January, and he points out the evident ignorance which prevailed in the West regarding Ignatius. [171:3]
On the one hand, therefore, all the historical data which we possess regarding the reign and character of Trajan discredit the story that Ignatius was sent to Rome to be exposed to beasts in the Coliseum; and all the positive evidence which exists, independent of the Epistles themselves, tends to establish the fact that he suffered martyrdom in Antioch itself. On the other hand, all the evidence which is offered for the statement that Ignatius was sent to Rome is more or less directly based upon the representations of the letters, the authenticity of which is in discussion, and it is surrounded with improbabilities of every kind.
We might well spare our readers the trouble of examining further the contents of the Epistles themselves, for it is manifest that they cannot afford testimony of any value on the subject of our inquiry. We shall, however, briefly point out all the passages contained in the seven Greek Epistles which have any bearing upon our Synoptic Gospels, in order that their exact position may be more fully appreciated. Tischendorf [171:4] refers to a passage in the Epistle to the Romans, c. 6, as a verbal quotation of Matt. 16:26, but he neither gives the context nor states the facts of the case. The passage reads as follows: "The pleasures of the world shall profit me nothing, nor the kingdoms of this time; it is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?" [171:5] Now, this quotation not only is not found in the Syriac version of the Epistle, but it is also omitted from the ancient Latin version, and is absent from the passage in the work of Timotheus of Alexandria against the Council of Chalcedon, and from other authorities. It is evidently a later addition, and is recognised as such by most critics. [172:1] It was probably a gloss, which subsequently was inserted in the text. Of these facts, however, Tischendorf does not say a word. [172:2]
The next passage to which he refers is in the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, c. 1, where the writer says of Jesus, "He was baptised by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him," [172:3] which Tischendorf considers a reminiscence of Matt. 3:15, "For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." [172:4] The phrase, besides being no quotation, has, again, all the appearance of being an addition; and when in ch. 3 of the same Epistle we find a palpable quotation from an apocryphal Gospel, which Jerome states to be the "Gospel according to the Hebrews," to which we shall presently refer, a Gospel which we know to have contained the baptism of Jesus by John, it is not possible, even if the Epistle were genuine, which it is not, to base any such conclusion upon these words. There is not only the alternative of tradition, but the use of the same apocryphal Gospel, elsewhere quoted in the Epistle, as the source of the reminiscence.
Tischendorf does not point out any more supposed
references to our Synoptic Gospels, but we proceed to notice all
the other passages which have been indicated by others. In the
Epistle to Polycarp, c. 2, the following sentence occurs: "Be thou
wise as the serpent in everything, and harmless as the dove." This
is, of course, compared with Matt. 10:16, "Be ye therefore, wise as
serpents, and innocent as doves." The Greek of both is as
|Phonimos ginou hôs ho ophis en pasin kai akeraios hôs hê peristera.||Ginesethe oun phronimoi hôs oi opheis [172:5] kai akeraioi hôs ai peristerai.|
In the Syriac version the passage reads, "Be thou
wise as the serpent in everything, and harmless as to those things
which are requisite as the dove." [172:6] It is
unnecessary to add that no source is indicated for the
reminiscence. Ewald assigns this part of
our first Gospel originally to the Spruchsammlung, and, even apart
from the variations presented in the Epistle, there is nothing to
warrant exclusive selection of our first Gospel as the source of
the saying. The remaining passages we subjoin in parallel
|EP. TO THE EPHESIANS 5.||MATT. 18:19|
|For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of the bishop and of all the Church. [173:1]||Again I say unto you that if two of you shall
agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask it shall be
done for them by my Father. 20. For where two or three are gathered
|EP. To EPHESIANS 6.||MATT. 10:40|
|For every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over his own household we ought to receive as we should him that sent (pempsanta) him.||He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent (aposteilanta) me.|
|Panta gar hon pemptei ho oikodespoês eis
idian oikonomian, outôs dei hêmas auton dechesthai,
hôs auton ton pempsanta.||Ho dechomenos humas eme dexetai, kai ho eme dechomenos dechetai ton aposteilanta me.|
|EP. TO TRALLIANS, 11.||MATT. 15:13|
|For these are not planting of the Father.||Every plant which my heavenly father did not
plant shall be rooted up.|
|Outoi gar ouk eisin phyteia patros.||Pasa phuteia hên ouk ephyteusen ho
patêr mou ho ouranios ekrizôthêsetai.|
|EP. TO SMYRANEANS, 6||MATT. 19:12|
|He that receiveth it let him receive it.
Ho chôrôn choreitô.
|He that is able to receive it let him receive
Ho dynamenos chôrein chôreitô.
None of these passages are quotations, and they generally present such marked linguistic variations from the parallel passages in our first Gospel that there is not the slightest ground for specially referring them to it. The last words cited are introduced without any appropriate context. In no case are the expressions indicated as quotations from, or references to, any particular source. They may either be traditional, or reminiscences of some of the numerous Gospels current in the early Church, such as the Gospel according to the Hebrews. That the writer made use of one of these cannot be doubted. In the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, c. 3, there occurs a quotation from an apocryphal Gospel to which we have already, in passing, referred: "For I know that also after his resurrection he was in the flesh, and I believe he is so now. And when he came to those who were with Peter he said to them: Lay hold, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit (daimonion). And immediately they touched him and believed, being convinced by his flesh and spirit." [174:1] Eusebius, who quotes this passage, says that he does not know whence it is taken. [174:2] Origen, however, quotes it from a work well known in the early Church, called "The Teaching of Peter" (Didachê Petrou); [174:3] and Jerome found it in the "Gospel according to the Hebrews," in use among the Nazarenes, [174:4] which he translated, as we shall hereafter see. It was, no doubt, in both of those works. The narrative, Luke 24:39 f., being neglected, and an apocryphal Gospel used here, the inevitable inference is clear, and very suggestive. As it is certain that this quotation was taken from a source different from our Gospels, there is reason to suppose that the other passages which we have cited are reminiscences of the same work. The passage on the three mysteries in the Epistle to the Ephesians, c. 19, is evidently another quotation from an uncanonical source. [174:5]
We must, however, again point out that, with the single exception of the short passage in the Epistle to Polycarp, c. 2, which is not a quotation, none of these supposed reminiscences of our Synoptic Gospels are found in the Syriac version of the three Epistles.
With regard to Scriptural quotations in all the seven Ignatian letters, it may be well to quote the words of Dr. Lightfoot. "The Ignatian letters do, indeed, show a considerable knowledge of the writings included in our Canon of the New Testament; but this knowledge betrays itself in casual words and phrases, stray metaphors, epigrammatic adaptations, and isolated coincidences of thought. Where there is an obligation, the borrowed figure or expression has passed through the mind of the writer, has been assimilated, and has undergone some modification in the process. Quotations from the New Testament, strictly speaking, there are none." [174:6] Dr. Lightfoot is speaking here, not only of the Gospels, but of the whole New Testament, and he adds, in regard to such approaches: "Even such examples can be counted on the fingers." Without discussing how such knowledge can be limited to special writings, it is obvious that, whatever view may be taken of the Ignatian letters, they afford no evidence even of the existence of our Gospels, and throw no light whatever on their authorship and trustworthiness as witnesses for miracles and the reality of Divine revelation.
We have hitherto deferred all consideration of the so-called Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, from the fact that, instead of proving the existence of the Epistles of Ignatius, with which it is intimately associated, it is itself discredited in proportion as they are shown to be inauthentic. We have just seen that the martyr-journey of Ignatius to Rome is, for cogent reasons, declared to be wholly fabulous, and the Epistles purporting to be written during that journey must be held to be spurious. The Epistle of Polycarp, however, not only refers to the martyr-journey (c. 9), but to the Ignatian Epistles which are inauthentic (c. 13), and the manifest inference is that it also is spurious.
Polycarp, who is said by Irenaeus [175:1] to have been in his youth a disciple of the Apostle John, became Bishop of Smyrna, and suffered martyrdom at a very advanced age. [175:2] On the authority of Eusebius and Jerome it has hitherto been generally believed that his death took place in A.D. 166-167. In the account of his martyrdom, which we possess in the shape of a letter from the Church of Smyrna, purporting to have been written by eyewitnesses, which must be pronounced spurious, Polycarp is said to have died under the Proconsul Statius Quadratus. [175:3] If this statement be correct, the date hitherto received can no longer be maintained, for recent investigations have determined that Statius Quadratus was proconsul in A.D. 155-5 or 155-6. [175:4] Some critics, who affirm the authenticity of the Epistle attributed to Polycarp, date the Epistle before A.D. 120, but the preponderance of opinion assigns it to a much later period. Doubts of its authenticity, and of the integrity of the text, were very early expressed, and the close scrutiny to which later and more competent criticism has subjected it has led very many to the conclusion that the Epistle is either largely interpolated or altogether spurious. The principal argument in favour of its authenticity is the fact that the Epistle is mentioned by Irenaeus, [175:5] who in his extreme youth was acquainted with Polycarp. [176:1] We have no very precise information regarding the age of Irenaeus; but Jerome states that he flourished under Commodus (180-192), and we may, as a favourable conjecture, suppose that he was then about 35-37. In that case his birth must be dated about A.D. 145. There is reason to believe that he fell a victim to persecution under Septimius Severus, and it is only doubtful whether he suffered during the first outbreak in A.D. 202 or later. According to this calculation the martyrdom of Polycarp, in A.D. 155-156, took place when he was ten or eleven years of age. Even if a further concession be made in regard to his age, it is evident that the intercourse of Irenaeus with the Bishop of Smyrna must have been confined to his very earliest years -- a fact which is confirmed by the almost total absence of any record in his writings of the communications of Polycarp. This certainly does not entitle Irenaeus to speak more authoritatively of an Epistle ascribed to Polycarp than anyone else of his day.
In the Epistle itself there are several anachronisms. In ch. 9 the "blessed Ignatius" is referred to as already dead, and he is held up with Zosimus and Rufus and also with Paul and the rest of the Apostles, as examples of patience -- men who have not run in vain, but are with the Lord; but in ch. 13 he is spoken of as living, and information is requested regarding him, "and those who are with him." [176:2] Yet, although thus spoken of as alive, the writer already knows of his Epistles, and refers, in the plural, to those written by him "to us, and all the rest which we have by us." [176:3] The reference here, it will be observed, is not only to the Epistles to the Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp himself, but to other spurious Epistles which are not included in the Syriac version. Daillé [176:4] pointed out long ago that ch. 13 abruptly interrupts the conclusion of the Epistle, and most critics, including those who assert the authenticity of the rest of the Epistle, reject it, at least, although many of these likewise repudiate ch. 9 as interpolated. Others, however, consider that the latter chapter is quite consistent with the later date, which, according to internal evidence, must be assigned to the Epistle. The writer vehemently denounces, [176:5] as already widely spread, the Gnostic heresy and other forms of false doctrine which did not exist until the time of Marcion, to whom and to whose followers he refers in unmistakeable terms. An expression is used in ch. 7, in speaking of these heretics, which Polycarp is reported by Irenaeus to have actually applied to Marcion in person, during his visit to Rome. He is said to have called Marcion the "first-born of Satan" (prôtotokos tou Satana), [177:1] and the same term is employed in this Epistle with regard to everyone who holds such false doctrines. The development of these heresies, therefore, implies a date for the composition of the Epistle, at earliest, after the middle of the second century, a date which is further confirmed by other circumstances. [177:2] The writer of such a letter must have held a position in the Church, to which Polycarp could only have attained in the latter part of his life, when he was deputed to Rome for the Paschal discussion, and the Epistle depicts the developed ecclesiastical organisation of a later time. [177:3] The earlier date which has now been adopted for the martyrdom of Polycarp by limiting the period during which it is possible that he himself could have written any portion of it, only renders the inauthenticity of the Epistle more apparent. Hilgenfeld has pointed out, as another indication of the same date, the injunction, "Pray for the kings" (Orate pro regibus), which, in 1 Peter 2:17, is "Honour the King" (ton Basilea timate), which, he argues, accords with the period after Antoninus Pius had elevated Marcus Aurelius to joint sovereignty (A.D. 147), or, better still, with that in which Marcus Aurelius appointed Lucius Verus his colleague, A.D. 161; for to rulers outside the Roman Empire there can be no reference. If authentic, however, the Epistle must have been written, at latest, shortly after the martyrdom of Ignatius in A.D. 115; but, as we have seen, there are strong internal characteristics excluding such a supposition. The reference to the martyr-journey of Ignatius and to the Epistles falsely ascribed to him is alone sufficient to betray the spurious nature of the composition, and to class the Epistle with the rest of the pseudo-Ignatian literature.
We shall now examine all the passages in this
Epistle which are pointed out as indicating any acquaintance with
our Synoptic Gospels. [178:1] The first
occurs in ch. 2, and we subjoin it in contrast with the nearest
parallel passages of the Gospels; but, although we break it up into
paragraphs, it will, of course, be understood that the quotation is
continuous in the Epistle:
|EPISTLE C. 11||MATTHEW|
|Remembering what the Lord said, teaching:|
|judge not, that ye be not judged;||7.1. judge not, that ye be not judged.|
|Forgive and it shall be forgiven to you;||7:14. For if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you: (cf. Luke 6:37 … pardon and ye shall be pardoned.)|
|Be pitiful, that ye may be pitied.||5:7. Blessed are the pitiful, for they shall obtain pity.|
|With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again; and that blessed are the poor and those that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.||7:2. with what measure ye meet it shall be measured to you. 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit … 5:10 Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.|
|EPISTLE c. 11||MATTHEW|
|Mnêmoneuontes de ôn eipen ho kurios didaskôn:|
|Mê krinete, hina mê krithete||7.1. Mê krinete, hina mê krithete.|
|Aphiete, kai aphethêsetai humin.||6:14. Ean gar aphête tois anthrôpois k.t.l. (cf. Luke 6:37, Apoluete kai apolythêsesthe.|
|Eleate hina elêthête||5:7. Makarioi oi eleêmones, hoti autoi eleêthêsontai.|
|ô metrô metreite, antimetrêthêsetai humin.||7:2. en ô metrô metreite metrêthêsetai humin.|
|Kai hoti makarioi oi ptochoi kai oi diôkomenoi, heneken dikaiosyniês, hoti aotôn estin hê Basileia tou Theou.||5:3. Makarioi oi ptochoi to pneumati - 10. Mak. oi dediôgmenoi, heneken dikaiosynês, hoti auton estin hê Basileia tôn ou panôn.|
It will be remembered that an almost similar direct quotation of words of Jesus occurs in the so-called Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, ch. 13, which we have already examined. [178:2] There the passage is introduced by the same words, and in the midst of brief phrases which have parallels in our Gospel there occurs in both Epistles the same expression, "Be pitiful, that ye may be pitied," which is not found in any of our Gospels. In order to find parallels for the quotation, upon the hypothesis of a combination of texts, we have to add together portions of the following verses in the order shown: Matt. 7:1, 6:14 (although, with complete linguistic variations, the sense of Luke 6:37 is much closer), 5:7, 7:2, 5:3, 5:10. Such fragmentary compilation is in itself scarcely conceivable in an Epistle of this kind, but when in the midst we find a passage foreign to our Gospels, which occurs in another work in connection with so similar a quotation, it is reasonable to conclude that the whole is derived from tradition or from a Gospel different from ours. In no case can such a passage be considered material evidence even of the existence of any one of our Gospels.
Another expression which is pointed out occurs in
ch. 7, "beseeching in our prayers the all-searching God not to lead
us into temptation, as the Lord said: The spirit, indeed, is
willing, but the flesh is weak." [179:1] This is
compared with the phrase in "the Lord's Prayer" (Matt. 6:13), or
the passage (26:41): "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into
temptation: the spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is
weak." [179:2] The
second Gospel, however, equally has the phrase (14:38), and shows
how unreasonable it is to limit these historical sayings to a
single Gospel. The next passage is of a similar nature (ch. 6):
"If, therefore, we pray the Lord that he may forgive us, we ought
also ourselves to forgive." [179:3] The
thought, but not the language, of this passage corresponds with
Matt. 6:12-14, but equally so with Luke 11:4. Now, we must repeat
that all such sayings of Jesus were the common property of the
early Christians -- were, no doubt, orally current amongst them,
and still more certainly were recorded by many of the numerous
Gospels then in circulation, as they are by several of our own. In
no case is there any written source indicated from which these
passages are derived; they are simply quoted as words of Jesus,
and, being all connected either with the "Sermon on the Mount" or
the "Lord's Prayer," the two portions of the teaching of Jesus
which were most popular, widely known, and characteristic, there
can be no doubt that they were familiar throughout the whole of the
early Church, and must have formed a part of most, or all, of the
many collections of the words of the Master. The anonymous
quotation of historical expressions of Jesus cannot prove even the
existence of one special document among many to which we may choose
to trace it, much less establish its authorship and character.