Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Patristics: Ignatius of Antioch, Part II

And so we continue our study of Ignatius. Specifically we turn our attention to his view on the role of bishops and the hierarchy of the Church. But before we look directly at any of Ignatius’ own writings, we would do well to refresh our memories on what Clement of Rome had to say on the matter, from his Letter to the Corinthians:

“Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.”

This idea, which we now term “Apostolic Succession,” preserves the teaching authority once granted to the Apostles by establishing successors to the role of “bishop” or “elder” in the Church. Likewise Paul instructed Timothy:
“You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others as well,” (2Tim 2:1-2), and to Titus: “I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” (Titus 1:5). We know that the Apostles instructed the churches to take great care in selecting their bishops and ministers, as Paul further warns: “Do not ordain anyone hastily…” (1Tim 5:22), and again “…guard what has been entrusted to you.” (1Tim 6:20).

Bearing witness to these teachings, Clement wrote as a First Century Bishop of Rome, one who knew Peter and Paul and who was himself ordained and entrusted by the Apostles to carry on their mission. So too is Ignatius a faithful steward of Apostolic teaching, a student of John the Apostle, and ordained by Peter as Bishop of Antioch. Ignatius picks up the same theme of Church unity and faithfulness to Apostolic teaching as was pointed out by Clement…

“…continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the Apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.” (from Ignatius’ Letter to the Trallians)

Ignatius views union with the bishop and union with “the enactments of the Apostles” as directly linked to union with Jesus Christ. To separate oneself from the bishop is to make oneself “not pure” – or to step away from “the altar,” as it were. Faithful Christians owe their allegiance to their bishop, just as they owe allegiance to Christ. Ignatius even boldly proclaims to the Ephesians “we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.” In other words, Jesus and His Church cannot be separated. Similarly strong language is found throughout Ignatius’ writings:

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” (To the Smyrnaeans)

“…the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit." (To the Philadelphians)

“…your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you…” (To the Magnesisans)

Among “those that preside over you” Ignatius points out two other offices (presbyter and deacon) which, together with the bishop above them, form the basic hierarchy of Church ministry. We read the same offices described in other letters from Ignatius, as in this passage from his letter to the Trallians:

“…without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God.”

Thus we see clearly the threefold nature of ordination, expressed in three Greek terms: 1) the
episcopate – the bishops, the highest degree of ordination, 2) the presbyterate – from which we derive the English word “priest,” who serve under the bishop, and 3) the diaconate – deacons, who receive a special call to minister to the needs of the people. Already in the First Century, and from no less an authority than the Apostolic Father Ignatius, who was trained by the Apostles themselves, we see that the Church recognized these distinct offices within the hierarchy. And we see that the First Century Church accepted this authority as having come from the Apostles and from Christ Himself.

This orderly arrangement within Church hierarchy was not meant to oppress Christians or stifle spiritual growth, but rather to instill unity in faith, so that all might believe with one accord - undivided - as Ignatius insisted to the Ephesians: “…obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind…" And to the Trallians Ignatius insists that this unity with the hierarchy is necessary for the very existence of the Church: “…reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.”

The Church – that is, the union of all believers – is held together by the ministry of this three-fold hierarchy. It is a unity for which Jesus Himself prayed:
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one." (John 17:20-23)

None of this is to discount the role of the laity. But without the ordained ministers the Church ceases to function as a unified Body. Each is called to his or her own role within that Body. The distinct functions of each member brings about the unity of the whole, united in one Spirit, as Saint Paul writes: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1Cor 12:4-6)

And again: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1Cor 12:27-30)

God ordered his Church is such a way that the teaching office of bishop (together with the presbyters and deacons) might be preserved down through the generations. We see this already in the First Century from those hand-picked by the Apostles for this role. Ignatius was ordained by the Apostles and bears witness to Apostolic teaching on this matter. And we can trace this teaching office down to the present day in the Catholic Church. Catholics remain subject to the authority of the bishops just as Scripture admonishes us:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith...Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
(Heb 13:7,17)

2 comments:

  1. "he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience"

    What if the bishop is commanding something opposed by Scripture, or at least not mandated by Scripture? If they refuse they would be not pure in their conscience?

    "we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself."

    That can be taken two ways...in one sense it's in harmony with Scripture, for Christ said "in as much as you do it for one of the least of these, you do it for me."...so we should look on everyone with the love of Christ.

    On the other hand, if he's asserting, like you said, that "Faithful Christians owe their allegiance to their bishop, just as they owe allegiance to Christ."...that's quite against Scripture. Even the Apostles erred, (e.g. prejudice Peter, Paul's anger at Mark, etc), so in the inevitable instance when a church leader differs from Christ's teachings, we must owe one more allegiance than the other. And that One should be Christ.

    "your bishop presides in the place of God"

    I don't know...sounds an aweful lot like the Scripture describing the "man of sin" saying "he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." - 2 Thess 2:4

    "The Church – that is, the union of all believers – is held together by the ministry of this three-fold hierarchy. It is a unity for which Jesus Himself prayed:

    "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one." (John 17:20-23)"

    But just a few verses later He prays "And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26)

    That the love of Christ would be in them...but it surely wasn't love when the Papacy slaughtered millions upon millions of people because they didn't believe the same way as the Catholic church. Christ's love never forced anyone to follow, let alone by violence. How can we reconcile these things?

    Very interesting, this Ignatius.

    Hey by the way, I posted our dialogue on the state of the dead on my blog as a stand-alone post. :-)

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  2. 1) “What if the bishop is commanding something opposed by Scripture, or at least not mandated by Scripture? If they refuse they would be not pure in their conscience?”

    Can a bishop err? Certainly. Are we obligated to obey a bishop when we know that it is contrary to the gospel? NO. We owe it to God to obey God, first and foremost.
    But I cannot leave the Church that was instituted by Christ simply because one bishop or even several bishops are in error. I cannot separate myself from the bishops or the whole Church for that would be to separate myself from the Church that Jesus established. It is my Christian duty to point out my bishop’s error so that a correction can be made. The laity have every right to receive the gospel truth from their leaders. But forming a new church or establishing a new line of bishops or cutting oneself off from Jesus Body is not the solution to the problem. The Church has been through many such rough patches and yet survives through God’s grace. I do not wish to cut myself off from that grace. The Church is full of imperfect people, and yet we receive grace through her.

    2) ”…if he's asserting, like you said, that "Faithful Christians owe their allegiance to their bishop, just as they owe allegiance to Christ."...that's quite against Scripture.”

    In the sense that the Church is the “Body of Christ” and we owe our allegiance to the Head (which is Christ), so too we must submit ourselves to being a part of that Body (which is the Church). Unless we want to “decapitate” Christ, as it were, then we must see the whole Christ for what He is and see that we do owe our allegiance to the hierarchy which is established by the Head. The Body is composed of bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. To remove ourselves from that Body is to remove ourselves from Jesus.

    3) “Even the Apostles erred, (e.g. prejudice Peter, Paul's anger at Mark, etc), so in the inevitable instance when a church leader differs from Christ's teachings, we must owe one more allegiance than the other. And that One should be Christ.”

    What are Christ’s teachings? You assume that all doctrine is plainly laid out in Scripture (Bible Alone). And you assume that a First or Second Century Christian had access to these writings with which he could check the bishop and point out error. On that point the facts are stacked against you. A First Century Christian could not just walk over to his Christian bookstore and buy a Bible and figure it out for himself. The Bible was not even completely compiled into one book. There was not even a consensus on which books were to be included and which were out. And most people were illiterate or could be killed for possessing such writings. And they had very little leisure time in which to make an honest effort of studying such matters. That is the situation Ignatius found himself in. Not our present day individualistic, modern society, where everyone can read and write and think for himself, and we are all expected to be own person and go our own way.
    Christ established the teaching authority of the Church to preserve the unity of the faith. And it is because of those ancient bishops that you now have your Bible today. The reason we accept the Bible at all is BECAUSE of the authority of the Catholic bishops who compiled it. The bishops who preserved the documents and made the tough decisions, guided by the Holy Spirit “unto all Truth,” and gave us the Bible as we know it. So when you say that we owe our allegiance to Christ I agree. I wholeheartedly agree. But the only reason you know who Christ is and what writings are Scriptural is because you must first trust that the Catholic Church got it right on which books to include in the Bible. You are trusting Catholic bishops without even knowing it.

    4) “’your bishop presides in the place of God’ - I don't know...sounds an awful lot like the Scripture describing the ‘man of sin’ saying ‘he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.’ - 2 Thess 2:4”

    “In the place of God” does not mean that the bishop “IS” God or is pretending to “BE” God. God grants people authority in the Church. If their authority is legitimately FROM God then it is not a usurpation of God’s role.
    Jesus granted obvious authority to His disciples. Often it is an authority that puts them in the place of God, in a manner of speaking…When He sent out the seventy two (Luke 10:16) and He says, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Jesus clearly identifies Himself and the Father with these seventy two disciples. He equates their preaching in a very direct way to His own words. Or when the risen Jesus tells His disciples “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) Only God can forgive us our sins. But God’s power works through the disciples. They stand in His place in the forgiveness of sins, just as they can speak for Him. Or when Jesus tells Peter to tend His sheep (John 20) – we know that JESUS is the Good Shepherd, but He gives Peter the role of Shepherd – Peter stands in Jesus’ place as Shepherd of the Flock.
    I see nothing in Ignatius’ words that contradicts these Scriptures.

    5) ”That the love of Christ would be in them...but it surely wasn't love when the Papacy slaughtered millions upon millions of people because they didn't believe the same way as the Catholic church. Christ's love never forced anyone to follow, let alone by violence. How can we reconcile these things?”

    Sometimes leaders fail. I agree. Sometimes we fall short. (I would strongly disagree that the Church has killed millions upon millions - that is an unfair exaggeration).
    But having sinful zeal for the faith is not the same as being doctrinally corrupt, for one thing. The killing is certainly a sin, but the doctrine may yet be true.
    Also… leaving the True Church because of another member’s sin does not excuse you for cutting yourself from Christ’s Body. In doing so, you too harm the Body. And you in effect reject the doctrine because of sin rather than truly examining the truth of the doctrine.

    "6) Very interesting, this Ignatius."

    Yes, he is. A student of the Apostles, friend to John the Apostle, ordained by Peter, a martyr for the faith, a First Century Bishop. A very reliable source for True doctrine. We can learn much from him if we wish to be in touch with what the first Christians believed.

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