I’ve begun another great graduate course… “Historical Theology”. In the first week’s module we’re talking about the
influence of several key individuals and/or perspectives from early on, and also the influence of history and historical perspective on the establishment of our theological standards. It’s interesting how much of our fishbowl we see when we DON’T read the historical backgrounds… for example, who all has argued this before, what kind of controversy it sparked in the church, what its long-lasting effect was on the church, etc. I can’t help but think of the Deity of Jesus controversy that sparked in the 4th century when Arius and Athenasius sparred with one another over this issue. Specifically, it was the question of “how can Jesus be man/God at the same time? The human condition is imperfection, sin, etc… so how can He be God and Man?” I never would have known about this until I started opening some books! I guess I would have stayed in my fishbowl about this issue, and only referenced the current situation, current personalities who argue about that issue, and I could only relate to modern commentary on it. So the opportunity to get into these topics is making me a better student of the word… I hope!
So one of our discussion questions this week was this; “Is Ignatius an egotistical, power-hungry manipulator, or a devout martyr who has a genuine concern for the church? “ Great question! At first glance, this man’s teaching, letters to churches, etc. almost seem to promote martyrdom in some sort of self-seeking, self-righteous way, almost like an early-day rebellious group of Christians who said, “we’ll die for our faith, no matter what you Romans say… hmmmpphhh!!!” But in fact it seems from Ignatius’s own statements through many places, he clearly shows himself to be a humble servant of God. Note his own words below and decide for yourself.Referencing the authority of Bishops and Apostles, the apostles could command in a general manner, while the jurisdiction of a bishop is limited to one community. He said, “Shall I, when permitted to write on this point, reach such a height of self-esteem, that though being a condemned man, I should issue commands to you as if I were an apostle?” (Tral. 3: or according to the longer version, “I do not issue orders like an apostle.”) “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man; they were free, while I am even until now a servant.” (Ign. Rom. 4.)
Great study. Ignatius was – I believe – one of the great stalwarts of the early Christian faith. We would do well to study the impact and writings of these early guys, who went to the death for the cause of Christ. NOT MILITANTLY, as if to rid the world of sinners or “infidels” as some of the radicals do, but humbly; so as to be willing to die if necessarily caught, and forced into the corner. In so doing, it was thought that we may be honored to suffer and die as our Master did; persecuted for unjust, personal causes.