The Ignatian Epistles Entirely Spurious
W. D. (William Dool) Killen
Transcribed by the Freethought Archives
THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES ENTIRELY SPURIOUS.
A Reply to The Right Rev. Dr. Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham.
W. D. KILLEN, D.D.
Professor of Ecclesiastical History, and
Principal of the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland.
"As the account of the martyrdom of Ignatius may be justly
suspected, so, too, the letters which presuppose the correctness
of this suspicious legend do not wear at all a stamp of a distinct
individuality of character, and of a man of these times addressing
his last words to the Churches."
This little volume is respectfully submitted to the candid
consideration of all who take an interest in theological
inquiries, under the impression that it will throw some additional
light on a subject which has long created much discussion. It has
been called forth by the appearance of a treatise entitled, "_The
Apostolic Fathers_, Part II. S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp. Revised
Texts, with Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, and Translations,
by J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D, Bishop of Durham."
In this voluminous production the Right Reverend Author has
maintained, not only that all the seven letters attributed by
Eusebius to Ignatius are genuine, but also that "no Christian
writings of the second century, and very few writings of
antiquity, whether Christian or pagan, are so well authenticated."
These positions, advocated with the utmost confidence by the
learned prelate, are sure to be received with implicit confidence
by a wide circle of readers; and I have felt impelled here openly
to protest against them, inasmuch as I am satisfied that they
cannot be accepted without overturning all the legitimate
landmarks of historical criticism. I freely acknowledge the
eminent services which Dr. Lightfoot has rendered to the Christian
Church by his labours as a Commentator on Scripture, and it is
therefore all the more important that the serious errors of a
writer so distinguished should not be permitted to pass
unchallenged. All who love the faith once delivered to the saints,
may be expected to regard with deference the letters of a martyr
who lived on the borders of the apostolic age; but these Ignatian
Epistles betray indications of a very different original, for they
reveal a spirit of which no enlightened Christian can approve, and
promulgate principles which would sanction the boldest assumptions
of ecclesiastical despotism. In a work published by me many years
ago, I have pointed out the marks of their imposture; and I have
since seen no cause to change my views. Regarding all these
letters as forgeries from beginning to end, I have endeavoured, in
the following pages, to expose the fallacy of the arguments by
which Dr. Lightfoot has attempted their vindication.
ASSEMBLY COLLEGE, BELFAST,
The critical spirit stimulated by the Reformation--The Ignatian
Epistles as regarded by Calvin, Ussher, Vossius, Daille, Pearson,
Wake, and Cureton--Dr. Lightfoot as a scholar and a commentator--
The valuable information supplied in his recent work--His estimate
of the parties who have pronounced judgment on the question of the
Ignatian Epistles--His verdict unfair--His introduction of Lucian
as a witness in his favour--The story of Peregrinus--Dr. Lightfoot's
cardinal mistake in his treatment of this question.
THE TESTIMONY OF POLYCARP TO THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES EXAMINED.
Dr. Lightfoot makes a most unguarded statement as to the Ignatian
Epistles--The letter of Polycarp better authenticated--The date
assigned for the martyrdom of Ignatius--The date of Polycarp's
Epistle--Written in the reign of Marcus Aurelius--Not written in
the reign of Trajan--The Epistle of Polycarp has no reference to
Ignatius of Antioch--It refers to another Ignatius of another age
and country--It was written at a time of persecution--The postscript
to the letter of Polycarp quite misunderstood--What is meant
by letters being carried to Syria--Psyria and Syria, two
islands in the Aegaean Sea--The errors of transcribers of the
postscript--The true meaning of the postscript--What has led to
the mistake as to the claims of the Ignatian Epistles--The
continued popularity of these Epistles among High Churchmen.
THE DATE OF THE MARTYRDOM OF POLYCARP.
Dr. Lightfoot's strange reasoning on this subject--The testimony
of Eusebius, Jerome, and others--Eusebius and Jerome highly
competent witnesses--Dr. Doellinger's estimate of Jerome--The basis
on which Dr. Lightfoot rests the whole weight of his chronological
argument--Aristides and his _Sacred Discourses_--Statius
Quadratus, the consuls and proconsuls--Ummidius Quadratus--Polycarp
martyred in the reign of Marcus Aurelius--His visit to Rome in the
time of Anicetus--Put to death when there was only one emperor--
Age of Polycarp at the time of his martyrdom--The importance of
the chronological argument.
THE TESTIMONY OF IRENAEUS AND THE GENESIS OF PRELACY.
The testimony of Irenaeus quite misunderstood--Refers to the dying
words of one of the martyrs of Lyons--The internal evidence
against the genuineness of the Ignatian Epistles--The contrast
between the Epistle of Polycarp and the Ignatian Epistles as
exhibited by Dr. Lightfoot himself--Additional points of
contrast--Dr. Lightfoot quite mistaken as to the origin of
Prelacy--It did not originate in the East, or Asia Minor, but in
Rome--The argument from the cases of Timothy and Titus untenable--
Jerome's account of the origin of Prelacy--James not the first
bishop of Jerusalem--In the early part of the second century the
Churches of Rome, Corinth, and Smyrna were Presbyterian--Irenaeus
conceals the origin of Prelacy--Coins the doctrine of the
apostolical succession--The succession cannot be determined even
in Rome--Testimony of Stillingfleet--In what sense Polycarp may
have been constituted a bishop by the apostles.
THE FORGERY OF THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES.
We have no positive historical information as to the origin of the
Ignatian Epistles--First saw the light in the early part of the
third century--Such forgeries then common--What was then thought
by many as to pious frauds--Callistus of Rome probably concerned
in the fabrication of the Ignatian Epistles--His remarkable
history--The Epistle to the Romans first forged--It embodies the
credentials of the rest--Montanism stimulated the desire for
martyrdom--The prevalence of this mania early in the third
century--The Ignatian Epistles present it in its most outrageous
form--The Epistle to the Romans must have been very popular at
Rome--Doubtful whether Ignatius was martyred at Rome--The Ignatian
Epistles intended to advance the claims of Prelacy--Well fitted to
do so at the time of their appearance--The account of Callistus
given by Hippolytus--The Ignatian letters point to Callistus as
their author--Cannot have been written in the beginning of the
second century--Their doctrine that of the Papacy.
APPENDIX I.--Letter of Dr. Cureton.
II.--The Ignatian Epistle to the Romans.
THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES ENTIRELY SPURIOUS.
The question of the genuineness of the Epistles attributed to
Ignatius of Antioch has continued to awaken interest ever since
the period of the Reformation. That great religious revolution
gave an immense impetus to the critical spirit; and when brought
under the light of its examination, not a few documents, the
claims of which had long passed unchallenged, were summarily
pronounced spurious. Eusebius, writing in the fourth century,
names only seven letters as attributed to Ignatius; but long
before the days of Luther, more than double that number were in
circulation. Many of these were speedily condemned by the critics
of the sixteenth century. Even the seven recognised by Eusebius
were regarded with grave suspicion; and Calvin--who then stood at
the head of Protestant theologians--did not hesitate to denounce
the whole of them as forgeries. The work, long employed as a text-book
in Cambridge and Oxford, was the _Institutes_ of the Reformer
of Geneva; [Endnote 2:1] and as his views on this subject are
there proclaimed very emphatically, [2:2] we may presume that
the entire body of the Ignatian literature was at that time
viewed with distrust by the leaders of thought in the English
universities. But when the doctrine of the Divine Right of
Episcopacy began to be promulgated, the seven letters rose in the
estimation of the advocates of the hierarchy; and an extreme desire
was manifested to establish their pretensions. So great was the
importance attached to their evidence, that in 1644--in the very
midst of the din and confusion of the civil war between Charles I.
and his Parliament--the pious and erudite Archbishop Ussher
presented the literary world with a new edition of these memorials.
Two years later the renowned Isaac Vossius produced a kindred
publication. Some time afterwards, Daille, a learned French
Protestant minister, attacked them with great ability; and
proved, to the satisfaction of many readers, that they are utterly
unworthy of credit. Pearson, subsequently Bishop of Chester, now
entered the arena, and in a work of much talent and research--the
fruit of six years' labour--attempted to restore their reputation.
This vindication was not permitted to pass without an answer; but,
meanwhile, the dark prospects of the Reformed faith in England and
the Continent directed attention to matters of more absorbing
interest, and the controversy was discontinued. From time to time,
however, these Epistles were kept before the eyes of the public
by Archbishop Wake and other editors; and more recently the
appearance of a Syriac copy of three of them--printed under
the supervision of the late Rev. Dr. Cureton--reopened the
discussion. Dr. Cureton maintained that his three Epistles are the
only genuine remains of the pastor of Antioch. In a still later
publication, [3:1] Bishop Lightfoot controverts the views of
Dr. Cureton, and makes a vigorous effort to uphold the credit of
the seven letters quoted by Eusebius and supported by Pearson.
Dr. Lightfoot has already acquired a high and deserved reputation as a
scholar and a commentator, and the present work furnishes abundant
evidence of his linguistic attainments and his perseverance; but
it is somewhat doubtful whether it will add to his fame as a
critic and a theologian. In these three portly octavo volumes--
extending to upwards of 1800 pages of closely printed matter--he
tries to convince his readers that a number of the silliest
productions to be found among the records of antiquity, are the
remains of an apostolic Father. He tells us, in his preface, that
the subject has been before him "for nearly thirty years;" and
that, during this period, it has "engaged his attention off and on
in the intervals of other literary pursuits and official duties."
Many, we apprehend, will feel that the result is not equal to such
a vast expenditure of time and labour; and will concur with
friends who, as he informs us, have complained to him that he has
thus "allowed himself to be diverted from the more congenial task
of commenting on S. Paul's Epistles." There is not, we presume, an
evangelical minister in Christendom who would not protest against
the folly exhibited in these Ignatian letters; and yet it appears
that the good Bishop of Durham has spent a large portion of his
life in an attempt to accomplish their vindication.
To Dr. Lightfoot may be justly awarded the praise of having here
made the reading public acquainted with the various manuscripts
and versions of these Ignatian letters, as well as with the
arguments which may be urged in their favour; and he has thus
rendered good service to the cause of historical criticism.
Professor Harnack, in a late number of the _Expositor_ [4:1],
states no more than the truth when he affirms that "this work is
the most learned and careful Patristic Monograph which has
appeared in the nineteenth century." To any one who wishes to
study the Ignatian controversy, it supplies a large amount of
valuable evidence, not otherwise easily accessible. Some, indeed,
may think that, without any detriment to ecclesiastical
literature, some of the matter which has helped to swell the
dimensions of these volumes might have been omitted. Everything in
any way associated with the name of Ignatius seems to have a
wonderful fascination for the learned prelate. Not content with
publishing and commending what he considers the genuine
productions of the apostolic Father, he here edits and annotates
letters which have long since been discredited by scholars of all
classes, and which he himself confesses to be apocryphal. The
_Acts of Martyrdom of Ignatius_--which he also acknowledges to be
a mere bundle of fables--he treats with the same tender regard.
Nor is this all. He gives these acts, or large portions of them,
in Latin and Greek, as well as in Coptic and Syriac; and annotates
them in addition. He supplies, likewise, English translations.
It may be argued, that the publication of such a mass of legendary
rubbish is necessary to enable the student to form a correct
judgment on the merits of the subject in debate; but surely the
question might be settled without the aid of some of these
Dr. Lightfoot has long been known as one of the most candid and
painstaking of scriptural commentators; but it must always be
remembered that he is an Episcopalian, and the ruler of an English
diocese. He would be something almost more than human, were he
to hold up the scales of testimony with strict impartiality when
weighing the claims of his own order. It strikes us that, in
the work before us, his prejudices and predilections reveal
their influence more conspicuously than in any of his other
publications. He can see support for his views in words and
phrases where an ordinary observer can discover nothing of the
kind; and he can close his eyes against evidence which others may
deem very satisfactory. Even when appraising the writers who have
taken part in this controversy, he has presented a very one-sided
estimate. He speaks of those who reject the claims of these
Epistles as forming "a considerable list of _second and third
rate_ names;" [6:1] and he mentions Ussher and Bentley among those
who espouse his sentiments. According to our author, there cannot
be a "shadow of doubt" that the seven Vossian Epistles "represent
the genuine Ignatius." [6:2] "No Christian writings of the second
century," says he, "and very few writings of antiquity, whether
Christian or pagan, are so well authenticated." [6:3] He surely
cannot imagine that Ussher would have endorsed such statements;
for he knows well that the Primate of Armagh condemned the
Epistle to Polycarp as a forgery. He has still less reason
to claim Bentley as on his side. On authority which Bishop Monk,
the biographer of Bentley, deemed well worthy of acceptance, it is
stated that in 1718, "on occasion of a Divinity Act," the Master
of Trinity College, Cambridge, "made a speech _condemning_ the
Epistles of S. Ignatius." His address created a "great ferment" in
the university. [7:1] It is further reported that Bentley "refused
to hear the Respondent who attempted to reply." We might have
expected such a deliverance from the prince of British critics;
for, with the intuition of genius, he saw the absurdity of
recognising these productions as proceeding from a Christian
minister who had been carefully instructed by the apostles.
Bentley's refusal to hear the Respondent who attempted to reply to
him, was exactly in keeping with his well-known dictatorial
temper. Does Dr. Lightfoot bring forward any evidence to
contradict this piece of collegiate history? None whatever.
He merely treats us to a few of his own _conjectures_, which simply
prove his anxiety to depreciate its significance. And yet he
ventures to parade the name of Bentley among those of the scholars
who contend for the genuineness of these letters! He deals after
the same fashion with the celebrated Porson. In a letter to the
author of this review [7:2], Dr. Cureton states that Porson
"rejected" these letters "in the form in which they were put forth
by Ussher and Vossius;" and declares that this piece of
information was conveyed to himself by no less competent an
authority than Bishop Kaye. Dr. Lightfoot meets this evidence by
saying that "the _obiter dictum_ even of a Porson," in the
circumstances in which it was given, might be "of little value." [7:3]
It was given, however, exactly in the circumstances in which
the speaker was best prepared to deliver a sound verdict, for it
was pronounced after the great critic had read the _Vindiciae_ of
It would be hopeless to attempt to settle a disputed question of
criticism by enumerating authorities on different sides, as, after
all, the value of these authorities would be variously discounted.
We must seek to arrive at truth, not by quoting names, but by
weighing arguments. Not a few, however, whose opinion may be
entitled to some respect, will not be prepared to agree with
Bishop Lightfoot when he affirms that those who reject these
Ignatian letters are, with few exceptions, only to be found in the
"list of second and third rate names" in literature. [8:1] We have
seen that Bentley and Porson disagree with him--and he can point
to no more eminent critics in the whole range of modern
scholarship. If Daille must be placed in the second rank, surely
Pearson may well be relegated to the same position; for there is
most respectable proof that his _Vindiciae_, in reply to the
treatise of the French divine, was pronounced by Porson to be a
"very unsatisfactory" performance. [8:2] "The most elaborate and
ingenious portion of the work" is, as Bishop Lightfoot himself
confesses, "the least satisfactory." [8:3] Dr. Lightfoot, we
believe, will hardly pretend to say that Vossius, Bull, and
Waterland stand higher in the literary world than Salmasius, John
Milton, and Augustus Neander; and he will greatly astonish those
who are acquainted with the history and writings of one of the
fathers of the Reformation, if he will contend that John Calvin
must be placed only in the second or third class of Protestant
theologians. In the presence of the great doctor of Geneva,
Hammond, Grotius, Zahn, and others whom Dr. Lightfoot has named as
his supporters, may well hide their diminished heads.
In the work before us the Bishop of Durham has pretty closely
followed Pearson, quoting his explanations and repeating his
arguments. Some of these are sufficiently nebulous. Professor
Harnack--who has already reviewed his pages in the _Expositor_,
and who, to a great extent, adheres to the views which they
propound--admits, notwithstanding, that he has "overstrained" his
case, and has adduced as witnesses writers of the second and third
centuries of whom it is impossible to prove that they knew
anything of the letters attributed to Ignatius. [9:1] As a
specimen of the depositions which Dr. Lightfoot has pressed into
his service, we may refer to the case of Lucian. That author wrote
about sixty years after the alleged date of the martyrdom of
Ignatius, and his Lordship imagines that in one of his works he
can trace allusions to the pastor of Antioch under the fictitious
name of Peregrinus. "Writing," says he "soon after A.D. 165,"
Lucian "caricatures the progress of Ignatius through Asia Minor in
his death of Peregrinus." [9:2] This Peregrinus was certainly an
odd character. Early in life he had murdered his own father, and
for this he was obliged to make his escape from his country.
Wandering about from place to place, he identified himself with
the Christians, gained their confidence, and became, as is
alleged, a distinguished member of their community. His zeal in
their cause soon exposed him to persecution, and he was thrown
into prison. His incarceration added greatly to his fame. His
co-religionists, including women and children, were seen from morning
to night lingering about the place of his confinement; he was
abundantly supplied with food; and the large sums of money, given
to him as presents, provided him with an ample revenue. After his
release he forfeited the favour of his Christian friends, and
became a Cynic philosopher; but he could not be at peace. He at
length resolved to immortalize himself by voluntary martyrdom.
Meanwhile he despatched letters to many famous cities, containing
laws and ordinances; and appointed certain of his companions--
under the name of death-messengers--to scatter abroad these
missives. Finally, at the close of the Olympian games he erected a
funeral pile; and when it was all ablaze, he threw himself into
it, and perished in the flames. "There is very strong reason for
believing" says Dr. Lightfoot, "that Lucian has drawn his picture,
at least in part, from the known circumstances of Ignatius'
history." [10:1] The bishop returns again and again to the
parallelism between Ignatius and Peregrinus, and appears to think
it furnishes an argument of singular potency in favour of the
disputed Epistles. "Second only," says he, to certain other
vouchers, which he produces, "stands this testimony." [11:1]
From such a sample the judicious reader may form some idea of the
conclusiveness of the bishop's reasoning. Peregrinus begins life
as a parricide, and dies like a madman; and yet we are asked to
believe that Lucian has thus sketched the history of an apostolic
Father! When Lucian wrote, Ignatius had been dead about sixty
years; but the pagan satirist sought to amuse the public by
sketching the career of an individual whom he had himself heard
and seen, [11:2] and who must have been well known to many of his
readers. About the middle of the second century the Church was
sorely troubled by false teachers, especially of the Gnostic type;
and it may have been that some adventurer, of popular gifts and
professing great zeal in the Christian cause, contrived to gather
around him a number of deluded followers, who, for a time, adhered
to him with wonderful enthusiasm. It may be that it is this
charlatan to whom Lucian points, and whose history he perhaps
exaggerates. But there is nothing in the life of Peregrinus which
can fairly be recognised even as a caricature of the career of one
of the most distinguished of the early Christian martyrs. Were we
to maintain that the pagan satirist was referring to the Apostle
John, we might be able to show almost as many points of resemblance.
The beloved disciple travelled about through various countries;
acquired a high reputation among the Christians; was imprisoned
in the Isle of Patmos; wrote letters to the seven Churches of Asia;
and was visited in his place of exile by angels or messengers,
who probably did not repair to him empty-handed. John died only
a few years before Ignatius, and was connected with the same
quarter of the globe. We have, however, never yet heard that
Lucian was suspected of alluding to the author of the Apocalypse.
If Bishop Lightfoot thinks that he can convince sensible men of
the genuineness of the Ignatian Epistles by bringing forward such
witnesses as Lucian and his hero Peregrinus, we believe he is very
much mistaken. The argument is not original, for it is pressed
with great confidence by his predecessor Pearson, and by others
more recently. But its weakness is transparent. Professor Harnack,
whilst admitting the weight of much of the evidence adduced in
these volumes, scornfully refuses to acknowledge its relevancy.
"Above all," says he, "Lucian should be struck out. I confess
I cannot imagine how writers go on citing Lucian as a witness
for the Epistles." [12:1] There is, however, an old adage,
"Any port in a storm:" and before the close of this discussion
it may perhaps be found that Lucian is as good a harbour of
refuge as can be furnished for the credit of the Ignatian Epistles
in the whole of the second century.
It is obvious that, even according to his own account of the
history of his present work, Dr. Lightfoot has not entered on its
preparation under circumstances likely to result in a safe and
unprejudiced verdict. "_I never once doubted_," says he in the
preface, [13:1] "that we possessed in one form or another the
genuine letters of Ignatius." This is, however, the very first
point to be proved; and the bishop has been labouring throughout
to make good a foregone conclusion. No wonder that the result
should be unsatisfactory. If he has built on a false foundation,
nothing else could be expected. There is not, we are satisfied, a
particle of solid evidence to show that Ignatius of Antioch left
behind him any writings whatever. This may be deemed a very bold
statement, but it is deliberately advanced. I hope, in a
subsequent chapter, to demonstrate that it is not made without due
THE TESTIMONY OF POLYCARP TO THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES EXAMINED.
The Bishop of Durham affirms, in a passage already quoted, that
"no Christian writings of the second century, and very few
writings of antiquity, whether Christian or pagan, are so
_well authenticated_" as the Epistles attributed to Ignatius.
This assuredly is an astounding announcement, made deliberately
by a distinguished author, whose attention, for nearly thirty years,
has been directed to the subject. The letter of Polycarp to the
Philippians is a writing of the second century, and it is by far
the most important witness in support of the Ignatian letters; but
we must infer, from the words just quoted, that it is not "so well
authenticated" as they are. It is difficult to understand by what
process of logic his Lordship has arrived at this conclusion. In
an ordinary court of law, the witness who deposes to character is
expected to stand on at least as high a moral platform in public
estimation as the individual in whose favour he bears testimony;
but if the letter of Polycarp is not "so well authenticated" as
these Ignatian letters, how can it be brought forward to establish
their reputation? Nor is this the only perplexing circumstance
connected with this discussion. There was a time when, according
to his own statement in the present work, Dr. Lightfoot "accepted
the Curetonian letters as representing the genuine Ignatius;" [15:1]
and, of course, when he regarded as forgeries the four others
which he now acknowledges. In the volumes before us, as if to
make compensation for the unfavourable opinion which he once
cherished, he advances the whole seven of the larger edition to a
position of especial honour. The letter of Polycarp, the works of
Justin Martyr, the treatise of Irenaeus _Against Heresies_, and
other writings of the second century, have long sustained an
honest character; but now they must all take rank below the
Ignatian Epistles. According to the Bishop of Durham, they are not
"so well authenticated."
In his eagerness to exalt the credit of these Ignatian letters,
Dr. Lightfoot, in his present publication, has obviously expressed
himself most incautiously. In point of fact, the letter of
Polycarp, as a genuine production of the second century, occupies
an incomparably higher position than the Ignatian Epistles. The
internal evidence in its favour is most satisfactory. It is
exactly such a piece of correspondence as we might expect from a
pious and sensible Christian minister, well acquainted with the
Scriptures, and living on the confines of the apostolic age. It
has, besides, all the external confirmation we could desire.
Irenaeus, who was personally well known to the author, and who has
left behind him the treatise _Against Heresies_ already mentioned,
speaks therein of this letter in terms of high approval. "There
is," says he, "a very sufficient Epistle of Polycarp written to
the Philippians, from which those who desire it, and who care for
their own salvation, can learn both the character of his faith and
the message of the truth." [16:1] Could such a voucher as this be
produced for the Epistles ascribed to Ignatius, and were the
external evidence equally satisfactory, it would be absurd to
doubt their genuineness. But whilst the internal evidence
testifies against them, they are not noticed by any writer for
considerably more than a century after they are said to have
The date commonly assigned for the martyrdom of Ignatius, and
consequently for the writing of the letters ascribed to him, is
the ninth year of Trajan, corresponding to A.D. 107. This date,
Dr. Lightfoot tells us, is "the one fixed element in the common
tradition." [16:2] It is to be found in the _Chronicon Paschale_,
and in the Antiochene and the Roman "Acts," as well as elsewhere. [16:3]
This same date is assigned by the advocates of the Ignatian Epistles
for the writing of Polycarp's letter. "Only a few months at the
outside," says Dr. Lightfoot, "probably only a few weeks, after
these Ignatian Epistles purport to have been written, the Bishop
of Smyrna himself addresses a letter to the Philippians." [17:1]
In due course it will be shown that Polycarp was at this time
only about four-and-twenty years of age; and any intelligent
reader who pursues his Epistle can judge for himself whether it
can be reasonably accepted as the production of so very youthful
an author. It appears that it was dictated in answer to a
communication from the Church at Philippi, in which he was
requested to interpose his influence with a view to the settlement
of some grave scandals which disturbed that ancient Christian
community. Is it likely that a minister of so little experience
would have been invited to undertake such a service? The
communication is rather such an outpouring of friendly counsel as
befitted an aged patriarch. In a fatherly style he here addresses
himself to wives and widows, to young men and maidens, to parents
and children, to deacons and presbyters. [17:2]
There are other indications in this letter that it cannot have
been written at the date ascribed to it by the advocates of the
Ignatian Epistles. It contains an admonition to "pray for _kings_
(or _the_ kings), _authorities_, and _princes_." [18:1] We are not
at liberty to assume that these three names are precisely
synonymous. By kings, or _the_ kings, we may apparently understand
the imperial rulers; by authorities, consuls, proconsuls,
praetors, and other magistrates; and by princes, those petty
sovereigns and others of royal rank to be found here and there
throughout the Roman dominions. [18:2] Dr. Lightfoot, indeed,
argues that the translation adopted by some--"_the_ kings"--is
inadmissible, as, according to his ideas, "we have very good
ground for believing that the definite article had no place in the
original." [18:3] He has, however, assigned no adequate reason why
the article may not be prefixed. His contention, that the
expression "pray for kings" has not "anything more than a general
reference," [18:4] cannot be well maintained. In a case such as
this, we must be, to a great extent, guided in our interpretation
by the context; and if so, we may fairly admit the article, for
immediately afterwards Polycarp exhorts the Philippians to pray
for their persecutors and their enemies,--an admonition which
obviously has something more than "a general reference." Such an
advice would be inappropriate when persecution was asleep, and
when no enemy was giving disturbance. But, at the date when
Ignatius is alleged to have been martyred, Polycarp could not have
exhorted the Philippians to pray for "the kings," as there was
then only _one_ sovereign ruling over the empire.
That this letter of Polycarp to the Philippians was written at a
time when persecution was rife, is apparent from its tenor
throughout. If we except the case of Ignatius of Antioch--many of
the tales relating to which Dr. Lightfoot himself rejects as
fabulous [19:1]--we have no evidence that in A.D. 107 the
Christians were treated with severity. The Roman world was then
under the mild government of Trajan, and the troubles which
afflicted the disciples in Bithynia, under Pliny, had not yet
commenced. The emperor, so far as we have trustworthy information,
had hitherto in no way interfered with the infant Church. But in
A.D. 161 two sovereigns were in power, and a reign of terror was
inaugurated. We can therefore well understand why Polycarp, after
exhorting his correspondents to pray for "the kings," immediately
follows up this advice by urging them to pray for their
persecutors and their enemies. If by "kings" we here understand
emperors, as distinguished from "princes" or inferior potentates,
it must be obvious that Polycarp here refers to the two reigning
sovereigns. It so happened that, when two kings began to reign,
persecution at once commenced; and the language of the Epistle
exactly befits such a crisis.
The whole strain of this letter points, not to the reign of
Trajan, but to that of Marcus Aurelius. Polycarp exhorts the
Philippians "to practise all endurance" (sec. 9) in the service of
Christ. "If," says he, "we should suffer for His name's sake, let
us glorify Him" (sec. 8). He speaks of men "encircled in saintly
bonds;" (sec. 1) and praises the Philippians for the courage which
they had manifested in sympathizing with these confessors. He
reminds them how, "with their own eyes," they had seen their
sufferings (sec. 9). All these statements suggest times of
tribulation. A careful examination of this letter may convince us
that it contains no reference to the Epistles attributed to
Ignatius of Antioch. Of the seven letters mentioned by Eusebius,
four are said to have been written from _Smyrna_ and three from
_Troas_. But the letters of which Polycarp speaks were written
from neither of these places, but from _Philippi_. In the letters
attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, the martyr describes himself as
a solitary sufferer, hurried along by ten rough soldiers from city
to city on his way to Rome; in the letter of Polycarp to the
Philippians, Ignatius is only one among a crowd of victims, of
whose ultimate destination the writer was ignorant. A considerable
time after the party had left Philippi, Polycarp begs the brethren
there to tell him what had become of them. "Concerning Ignatius
himself, and those _who are with him_, if," says he, "ye have any
sure tidings, certify us." [21:1] In the Ignatian Epistle
addressed to Polycarp, he is directed to "write to the Churches,"
to "call together a godly council," and "to elect" a messenger to
be sent to Syria (sec. 7). Polycarp, in his letter to the Philippians,
takes no notice of these instructions. He had obviously never
heard of them. It is indeed plain that the letter of the
Philippians to Polycarp had only a partial reference to the case
of Ignatius and his companions. It was largely occupied with other
matters; and to these Polycarp addresses himself in his reply.
The simple solution of all these difficulties is to be found in
the fact that the Ignatius mentioned by Polycarp was a totally
different person from the pastor of Antioch. He lived in another
age and in another country. Ignatius or Egnatius--for the name is
thus variously written--was not a very rare designation; [21:3]
and in the neighbourhood of Philippi it seems to have been common.
The famous _Egnatian_ road, [21:4] which passed through the place,
probably derived its title originally from some distinguished
member of the family. We learn from the letter of Polycarp that
_his_ Ignatius was a man of Philippi. Addressing his brethren
there, he says, "I exhort you all, therefore, to be obedient unto
the word of righteousness, and to practise all endurance, which
also ye saw with your own eyes in the blessed Ignatius, and
Zosimus, and Rufus, and IN OTHERS ALSO AMONG YOURSELVES" (Sec. 9).
These words surely mean that the individuals here named were men
of Philippi. It is admitted that two of them, viz. Zosimus
and Rufus, answered to this description; and in the Latin
Martyrologies, as Dr. Lightfoot himself acknowledges, [22:2] they
are said to have been natives of the town. It will require the
introduction of some novel canon of criticism to enable us to
avoid the conclusion that Ignatius, their companion, is not to be
classed in the same category.
It is well known that when Marcus Aurelius became emperor he
inaugurated a new system of persecution. Instead of at once
consigning to death those who boldly made a profession of
Christianity, as had heretofore been customary in times of trial,
he employed various expedients to extort from them a recantation.
He threw them into confinement, bound them with chains, kept them
in lingering suspense, and subjected them to sufferings of
different kinds, in the hope of overcoming their constancy. It
would seem that Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus, and their companions
were dealt with after this fashion. They were made prisoners, put
in bonds, plied with torture under the eyes of the Philippians,
and taken away from the city, they knew not whither. It may be
that they were removed to Thessalonica, the residence of the Roman
governor, that they might be immured in a dungeon, to await there
the Imperial pleasure. It is pretty clear that they did not expect
instant execution. When Polycarp wrote, he speaks of them as still
living; and he is anxious to know what may yet betide them.
Let us now call attention to another passage in this letter of
Polycarp to the Philippians. Towards its close the following
sentence appears somewhat in the form of a postscript. "Ye wrote
to me, both ye yourselves and Ignatius, asking that if any one
should go to Syria, he _might_ carry thither the letters _from
you_." We have here the reading, and translation adopted by
Dr. Lightfoot; but it so happens that there is another reading
perhaps, on the whole, quite as well supported by the authority of
versions and manuscripts. It may be thus rendered: "Ye wrote to
me, both ye yourselves and Ignatius, suggesting that if any one is
going to Syria, he might carry thither _my letters to you_." [23:1]
The sentence, as interpreted by the advocates of the Ignatian
Epistles, wears a strange and suspicious aspect. If Ignatius
and the Philippians wished their letters to be carried to
_Antioch_, why did they not say so? Syria was an extensive
province,--much larger than all Ireland,--and many a traveller
might have been going there who would have found it quite
impracticable to deliver letters in its metropolis. When there
was no penny postage, and when letters of friendship were often
carried by private hands, if an individual residing in the north
or south of the Emerald Isle had requested a correspondent in
Bristol to send his letters by "any one" going over to Ireland, it
would not have been extraordinary if the Englishman had received
the message with amazement. Could "any one" passing over to
Ireland be expected to deliver letters in Cork or Londonderry?
There were many places of note in Syria far distant from Antioch;
and it was preposterous to propose that "any one" travelling to
that province should carry letters to its capital city. No one can
pretend to say that the whole, or even any considerable part of
Syria, was under the ecclesiastical supervision of Ignatius; for,
long after this period, the jurisdiction of a bishop did not
extend beyond the walls of the town in which he dwelt. If Ignatius
meant to have his letters taken to _Antioch_, why vaguely say that
they were to be carried to Syria? [24:1] Why not distinctly name
the place of their destination? It had long been the scene of his
pastoral labours; and it might have been expected that its very
designation would have been repeated by him with peculiar
interest. No good reason can be given why he should speak of
Syria, and not of Antioch, as the place to which his letters were
to be transmitted. Nor is this the only perplexing circumstance
associated with the request mentioned in the postscript to this
letter. If the Philippians, or Ignatius, had sent letters to
Polycarp addressed to the Church of Antioch, was it necessary for
them to say to him that they should be forwarded? Would not his
own common sense have directed him what to do? He was not surely
such a dotard that he required to be told how to dispose of these
If we are to be guided by the statements in the Ignatian Epistles,
we must infer that the letters to be sent to Antioch were to be
forwarded with the utmost expedition. A council was to be called
forthwith, and by it a messenger "fit to bear the name of God's
courier" [25:1] was to be chosen to carry them to the Syrian metropolis.
There are no such signs of haste or urgency indicated in the postscript
to Polycarp's Epistle. The letters of which he speaks could afford
to wait until some one happened to be travelling to Syria; and then,
it is suggested, he _might_ take them along with him. If we adopt
the reading to be found in the Latin version, and which, from
internal evidence, we may judge to be a true rendering of the original,
we are, according to the interpretation which must be given to it
by the advocates of the Ignatian Epistles, involved in hopeless
bewilderment. If by Syria we understand the eastern province, what
possibly can be the meaning of the words addressed by Polycarp to
the Philippians, "If any one is going to Syria, he might _carry
thither my letters to you_"? [26:1] Any one passing from Smyrna to
Philippi turns his face to the north-west, but a traveller from
Smyrna to Syria proceeds south-east, or in the exactly opposite
direction. How could Polycarp hope to keep up a correspondence
with his brethren of Philippi, if he sent his letters to the
distant East by any one who might be going there?
It is pretty evident that the Latin version has preserved the true
original of this postscript, and that the current reading, adopted
by Dr. Lightfoot and others, must be traced to the misapprehensions
of transcribers. Puzzled by the statement that letters from Polycarp
to the Philippians were to be sent to Syria, they have tried to correct
the text by changing [Greek: par haemon] into [Greek: par humon]--
implying that the letters were to be transmitted, not from Polycarp
to the Philippians, but from the Philippians to Antioch. A very
simple explanation may, however, remove this whole difficulty.
If by Syria we understand, not the great eastern province so called,
but a little island of similar name in the Aegaean Sea, the real
bearing of the request is at once apparent. Psyria [27:1]--in the
course of time contracted into Psyra--lies a few miles west of
Chios, [27:2] and is almost directly on the way between Smyrna
and Neapolis, the port-town of Philippi. A letter from Smyrna left
there would be carried a considerable distance on its journey to
Philippi. Some friendly hand might convey it from thence to its
destination. Psyria and Syria are words so akin in sound that a
transcriber of Polycarp's letter, copying from dictation, might
readily mistake the one for the other; and thus an error creeping
into an early manuscript may have led to all this perplexity.
Letters in those days could commonly be sent only by special
messengers, or friends traveling abroad; and the Philippians
had made a suggestion to Polycarp as to the best mode of keeping
up their correspondence. They had probably some co-religionists
in Psyria; and a letter sent there to one or other of them, could,
at the earliest opportunity, be forwarded. But another explanation,
perhaps quite as worthy of acceptance, may solve this mystery.
Syria was the ancient name of another island in the Aegaean Sea,
and one of the Cyclades. Though it is not so much as Psyria in
the direct course between Smyrna and Philippi, it is a place of
greater celebrity and of more commercial importance. Like Psyria,
in the course of ages its name has been contracted, and it is now
known as Syra. Between it and Smyrna there has been much intercourse
from time immemorial. It has been famous since the days of Homer, [28:1]
and it was anciently the seat of a bishop, [28:2]--an evidence
that it must soon have had a Christian population. It is at the
present day the centre of an active trade; and a late distinguished
traveller has told us how, not many years ago, in an afternoon,
he and his party "left Syra, and next morning anchored in front
of the town of Smyrna." [28:3] Syria is not, as has been intimated,
in the direct route to Philippi; but the shortest way is not always
either the best or the most convenient. At present this place is
the principal port of the Greek archipelago; [29:1] and probably,
in the days of Polycarp, vessels were continually leaving its harbour
for towns on the opposite coasts of the Aegaean. A Christian
merchant resident in Syria would thus have facilities for sending
letters left with him either to Smyrna or Philippi. Ignatius or
his friends may have heard of an offer from such a quarter to take
charge of their correspondence, and may have accordingly made the
suggestion noticed at the close of Polycarp's letter. As the
island of Syria was well known to them all, the Smyrnaeans could
not have misunderstood the intimation.
This explanation throws light on another part of this postscript
which has long been embarrassing to many readers. After adverting
to the request of Ignatius and the Philippians relative to the
conveyance of the letters, Polycarp adds, "which request I will
attend to if I get a fit opportunity, either personally, or by one
whom I shall depute to act likewise on your behalf." [29:2]
According to the current interpretation, Polycarp here suggests
the probability of a personal visit to the eastern capital, if he
could find no one else to undertake the service. The occasion
evidently called for no such piece of self-sacrifice on the part
of this apostolic Father. The Church of Antioch, after the removal
of its pastor Ignatius, was, we are assured, delivered from
farther trouble, and was now at peace. [30:1] The presence of the
minister of Smyrna there was utterly unnecessary; [30:2] the place
was very far distant; and why then should he be called on to
undertake a wearisome and expensive journey to Antioch and back
again? Polycarp admits that his visit was not essential, and that
a messenger might do all that was required quite as well. But if
by Syria we understand one of the Sporades or Cyclades, we are
furnished with a ready solution of this enigma. The little island
of Psyria was distant from Smyrna only a few hours' sail; and as
it was perhaps the residence of some of his co-religionists,
Polycarp might soon require to repair to it in the discharge of
his ecclesiastical duties. He could then take along with him, so
far, the letters intended for Philippi. Or if by Syria we here
understand the little island anciently so called, near the centre
of the Cyclades, the explanation is equally satisfactory. The
letter of Polycarp was written, not as Dr. Lightfoot contends, in
A.D. 107 but, as we have seen, about A.D. 161, when, as the whole
strain of the Epistle indicates, he was far advanced in life.
There is reason to believe that about this very juncture he was
contemplating a journey to Rome, that he might have a personal
conference with its chief pastor, Anicetus. His appearance in the
seat of Empire on that occasion created a great sensation, and
seems to have produced very important results. If he now went
there, any one who looks at the map may see that he must pass
Syria on the way. He could thus take the opportunity of leaving
there any letters for Philippi of which he might be the bearer.
At a subsequent stage of our discussion, this visit of Polycarp
to Rome must again occupy our attention.
The facts brought under the notice of the reader in this chapter
may help him to understand how it has happened that so many have
been befooled by the claims of these Ignatian Epistles. A mistake
as to two of the names mentioned in the letter of Polycarp,
created, as will subsequently appear, by the crafty contrivance of
a manufacturer of spurious documents, has led to a vast amount of
blundering and misapprehension. Ignatius, a man of Philippi, has
been supposed to be Ignatius, the pastor of Antioch; and Syria,
the eastern province of the Roman Empire, has been confounded with
Psyria or Syria--either of these names representing an island in
the Aegean Sea not far from Smyrna. Ignatius, the confessor of
Philippi, when in bonds wrote, as we find, a number of letters
which were deemed worthy of preservation, but which have long
since perished; and some time afterwards an adroit forger, with a
view to the advancement of a favourite ecclesiastical system,
concocted a series of letters which he fathered upon Ignatius of
Antioch. In an uncritical age the cheat succeeded; the letters
were quite to the taste of many readers; and ever since they have
been the delight of High Churchmen. Popes and Protestant prelates
alike have perused them with devout enthusiasm; and no wonder that
Archbishop Laud, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Hall, and Archbishop
Wake, have quoted Ignatius with applause. The letters ascribed to
him are the title-deeds of their order. Even the worthy Bishop of
Durham, who has never permitted himself to doubt that we possess
in some form the letters of the pastor of Antioch, has been the
victim of his own credulity; and has been striving "off and on"
for "nearly thirty years" to establish the credit of Epistles
which teach, in the most barefaced language the gospel of
sacerdotal pretension and passive obedience.
THE DATE OF THE MARTYRDOM OF POLYCARP.
To many it may appear that there can be no connection between the
date of the martyrdom of Polycarp and the claims of the Ignatian
Epistles. All conversant with the history of this controversy
must, however, be aware that the question of chronology has
entered largely into the discussion. If we defer to the authority
of the earliest and best witnesses to whom we can appeal for
guidance, it is impossible to remove the cloud of suspicion which
at once settles down on these letters. Their advocates are aware
of the chronological objection, and they have accordingly expended
immense pains in trying to prove that Eusebius, Jerome, and other
writers of the highest repute have been mistaken. In his recent
work, the Bishop of Durham has exhausted the resources of his
ability and erudition in attempting to demonstrate that the only
parties from whom we can fairly expect anything like evidence have
all been misinformed. He has secured a verdict in his favour from
a number of reviewers, who have apparently at once given way
before the formidable array of learned lore brought together in
these volumes; [34:1] but, withal, the intelligent reader who
cautiously peruses and ponders the elaborate chapter in which he
deals with this question, will feel rather mystified than
enlightened by his argumentation. It may therefore be proper to
state the testimony of the ancient Christian writers, and to
describe the line of reasoning pursued by Dr. Lightfoot.
"The main source of opinion," says the bishop, "respecting the
year of Polycarp's death, among ancient and modern writers alike,
has been the _Chronicon_ of Eusebius ... After the seventh year of
M. Aurelius, he appends the notice, 'A persecution overtaking the
Church, Polycarp underwent martyrdom.' ... Eusebius is here
assumed to date Polycarp's martyrdom in the seventh year of
M. Aurelius, _i.e._ A.D. 167." [34:2] Dr. Lightfoot then proceeds
to observe that "this inference is unwarrantable," inasmuch as
"the notice is not placed opposite to, but _after this year_."
He adds that it "is associated with the persecutions in Vienne and
Lyons, which we know to have happened A.D. 177." [34:3] So far the
statement of the bishop is unobjectionable, and, according to his
own showing, we might conclude that Polycarp suffered some time
after the seventh year of M. Aurelius. But this plain logical
deduction would be totally ruinous to the system of chronology
which he advocates; and he is obliged to resort to a most
outlandish assumption that he may get over the difficulty. He
contends that Eusebius did not know at what precise period these
martyrdoms occurred. "We can," says the bishop, "only infer with
safety that Eusebius _supposed_ Polycarp's martyrdom to have
happened _during the reign_ of M. Aurelius." "As a matter of fact,
the Gallican persecutions took place some ten years later [than
A.D. 167], and therefore, so far as this notice goes, the
martyrdom of Polycarp might have taken place _as many years
These extracts may give the reader some idea of the manner in
which Dr. Lightfoot proceeds to build up his chronological
edifice. Eusebius places the martyrdom of Polycarp and the
martyrdoms of Vienne and Lyons after the seventh year of
M. Aurelius; and therefore, argues Dr. Lightfoot, he did not know
when they occurred! Because the martyrdoms of Vienne and Lyons
took place ten years after A.D. 167, therefore the martyrdom at
Smyrna may, for anything that the father of ecclesiastical history
could tell, have been consummated in A.D. 157! Dr. Lightfoot
himself supplies proof that such an inference is inadmissible; for
he acknowledges that, according to Eusebius, the pastor of Smyrna
finished his career in the reign of M. Aurelius. But, in A.D. 157,
M. Aurelius was not emperor. Such are the contradictions to which
this writer commits himself in attempting to change the times and
It is quite clear that Eusebius laboured under no such uncertainty,
as Dr. Lightfoot would fondly persuade himself, relative to the
date of the martyrdom of Polycarp. He directs attention to the
subject in his _History_ as well as in his _Chronicon_, and in
both his testimony is to the same effect. In both it is alleged
that Polycarp was martyred in the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
It must be remembered, too, that Eusebius was born only about
a century after the event; that from his youth he had devoted
himself to ecclesiastical studies; that he enjoyed the privilege
of access to the best theological libraries in existence in
his day; that, from his position in the Church as bishop of
the metropolis of Palestine, and as the confidential counselor
of the Emperor Constantine, he had opportunities of coming into
personal contact with persons of distinction from all countries,
who must have been well acquainted with the traditions of their
respective Churches; and that he was a man of rare prudence,
intelligence, and discernment. He was certainly not a philosophical
historian, and in his great work he has omitted to notice many
things of much moment; but it must be conceded that, generally
speaking, he is an accurate recorder of facts; and, in the case
before us, he was under no temptation whatever to make a misleading
statement. We must also recollect that his testimony is corroborated
by Jerome, who lived in the same century; who, at least in two
places in his writings, reports the martyrdom; and who affirms
that it occurred in the seventh year of M. Aurelius. [37:1]
Dr. Lightfoot, indeed, asserts that Jerome "derived his knowledge
from Eusebius," [37:2] and that, "though well versed in works of
Biblical exegesis, ... he was otherwise _extremely ignorant_ of
early Christian literature." [37:3] We have here unhappily another
of those rash utterances in which the Bishop of Durham indulges
throughout these volumes; for assuredly it is the very extravagance
of folly to tax Jerome with "extreme ignorance of early Christian
literature." Those who are acquainted with his writings will
decline to subscribe any such depreciatory certificate. He was
undoubtedly bigoted and narrow-minded, but he had a most capacious
memory; he had travelled in various countries; he had gathered a
prodigious stock of information; he was the best Christian scholar
of his generation; he has preserved for us the knowledge of not a
few important facts which Eusebius has not registered; and he at
one time contemplated undertaking himself the composition of an
ecclesiastical history. [37:4] We cannot, therefore, regard him as
the mere copyist of the Bishop of Caesarea. "Every one acquainted
with the literature of the primitive Church," says Dr. Doellinger,
"knows that it is precisely in Jerome that we find _a more exact
knowledge of the more ancient teachers_ of the Church, and that we
are indebted to him for more information about their teaching and
writings, than to any other of the Latin Fathers." [38:1]
Dr. Doellinger is a Church historian whom even the Bishop of Durham
cannot afford to ignore,--as, in his own field of study, he has,
perhaps, no peer in existence,--and yet he here states explicitly,
not certainly that Jerome was extremely ignorant of early
Christian literature, but that, in this very department, he was
specially well informed. The learned monk of Bethlehem must have
felt a deep interest in Polycarp as an apostolic Father: he was
quite capable of testing the worth of the evidence relative to the
time of the martyrdom; and his endorsement of the statement of
Eusebius must be accepted as a testimony entitled to very grave
consideration. Some succeeding writers assign even a later period
to the death of Polycarp. It is a weighty fact that no Christian
author for the first eight centuries of our era places it before
the reign of M. Aurelius. The first writer who attaches to it an
earlier date is Georgius Hamartolus, who flourished about the
middle of the ninth century. Dr. Lightfoot confesses that what he
says cannot be received as based on "any historical tradition or
critical investigation." [38:2] It is, in fact, utterly worthless.
The manner in which Dr. Lightfoot tries to meet the array of
evidence opposed to him is somewhat extraordinary. He does not
attempt to show that it is improbable in itself, or that there are
any rebutting depositions. He leaves it in its undiminished
strength; but he raises such a cloud of learned dust around it,
that the reader may well lose his head, and be unable, for a time,
to see the old chronological landmarks. [39:1] He rests his case
chiefly on a statement to be found in a postscript, of admittedly
doubtful authority, appended to the letter of the Smyrnaeans
relative to the martyrdom of Polycarp. He argues as if the
authority for this statement were unimpeachable; and, evidently
regarding it as the very key of the position, he endeavours, by
means of it, to upset the chronology of Eusebius, Jerome, the
_Chronicon Paschale_, and other witnesses. As the reader peruses
his chapter on "The Date of the Martyrdom," he cannot but feel
that the evidence presented to him is bewildering, indecisive, and
obscure; and it may occur to him that the author is very like an
individual who proposes to determine the value of two or three
unknown quantities from one simple algebraic equation. His
principal witness, Aristides, were he now living and brought up in
presence of a jury, would find himself in rather an odd
predicament. He is expected to settle the date of the death of
Polycarp, and yet he knows nothing either of the pastor of Smyrna
or of his tragic end. It does not appear that he had ever heard of
the worthy apostolic Father. Aristides was a rhetorician who has
left behind him certain orations, entitled _Sacred Discourses_,
written in praise of the god Aesculapius. It might be thought that
such a writer is but poorly qualified to decide a disputed
question of chronology. Our readers may have heard of Papias,--one
of the early Fathers, noted for the imbecility of his intellect.
Aristides, it seems, was quite as liable to imposition. "The
credulity of a Papias," says Dr. Lightfoot, "is more than matched
by the credulity of an Aristides." [40:1] Such is the bishop's
leading witness. Aristides was an invalid and a hypochondriac;
and, in the discourses he has left behind him, he describes the
course of a long illness, with an account of his pains, aches,
purgations, dreams, and visions--interspersed, from time to time,
with what Dr. Lightfoot estimates as "valuable chronological
The reader may be at a loss to understand how it happens that this
eccentric character has been brought forward as a witness to the
date of the martyrdom of Polycarp. He has been introduced under
the following circumstances. In the postscript to the Smyrnaean
letter--an appendage of very doubtful authority--we are told that
the martyrdom occurred when Statius Quadratus was proconsul of
Asia. From certain incidental allusions made by Aristides in
his discourses, the bishop labours hard to prove that this
Statius Quadratus was proconsul of Asia somewhere about A.D. 155.
The evidence is not very clear or well authenticated; and we have
reason to fear that very little reliance can be placed on the
declarations of this afflicted rhetorician. His sickness is said
to have lasted seventeen years; and it is possible that,
meanwhile, his memory as to dates may have been somewhat impaired.
Dr. Lightfoot cannot exactly tell when his sickness commenced or
when it terminated. But he has ascertained that this Quadratus was
consul in A.D. 142; and, by weighing probabilities as to the
length of the interval which may have elapsed before he became
proconsul, he has arrived at the conclusion that it might have
amounted to twelve or thirteen years. Nothing, however, can be
more unsatisfactory than the process by which he has reached this
result. According to the usual routine, an individual advanced to
the consulate became, in a number of years afterwards, a
proconsul; and yet, as everything depended on the will of the
emperor, it was impossible to tell how long he might have to wait
for the appointment. He might obtain it in five years, or perhaps
sooner, if "an exceptionally able man;" [41:1] or he might be kept
in expectancy for eighteen or nineteen years. The proconsulship
commonly terminated in a year; but an individual might be retained
in the office for five or six years. [41:2] He might become consul
a second time, and then possibly he might again be made proconsul.
Dr. Lightfoot, as we have seen, has proved that Statius Quadratus
was consul in A.D. 142; and then, by the aid of the dreamer
Aristides, he has tried to show that he probably became proconsul
of Asia about A.D. 154 or A.D. 155. His calculations are obviously
mere guesswork. Even admitting their correctness, it would by no
means follow that Polycarp was then consigned to martyrdom. The
postscript of the Smyrnaean letter is, as we have seen, justly
suspected as no part of the original document. Dr. Lightfoot
himself tells us, that it is "_generally_ treated as a later
addition to the letter, and as coming from a different hand;" [42:1]
and, whilst disposed to uphold its claims as of high authority,
he admits that, when tested as to "external evidence," the
supplementary paragraphs, of which this is one, "do not stand
on the same ground" [42:2] as the rest of the Epistle. And yet his
whole chronology rests on the supposition that the name of the
proconsul is correctly given in this probably apocryphal addition
to the Smyrnaean letter. Were we even to grant that this
postscript belonged originally to the document, it would supply
no conclusive evidence that Polycarp was martyred in A.D. 155.
It is far more probable that the writer has been slightly inaccurate
as to the exact designation of the proconsul of Asia about the time
of the martyrdom. [43:1] He was called Quadratus--not perhaps
_Statius_, but possibly _Ummidius Quadratus_. [43:2] There is
nothing more common among ourselves than to make such a mistake as
to a name. How often may we find John put for James, or Robert for
Andrew? Quadratus was a patrician name, well known all over the
empire; and if Statius Quadratus had, not long before, been
proconsul of Asia, it is quite possible that the writer of this
postscript may have taken it for granted that the proconsul about
the time of Polycarp's death was the same individual. The author,
whoever he may have been, was probably not very well acquainted
with these Roman dignitaries, and may thus have readily fallen
into the error. Dr. Lightfoot has himself recorded a case in which
a similar mistake has been made--not in an ordinary communication
such its this, but in an Imperial ordinance. In a Rescript of the
Emperor Hadrian, _Licinius_ Granianus, the proconsul, is styled
_Serenus_ Granianus. [43:3] If such a blunder could be perpetrated
in an official State document, need we wonder if the penman of the
postscript of the Smyrnaean letter has written Statius Quadratus
for Ummidius Quadratus? And yet, if we admit this very likely
oversight, the whole chronological edifice which the Bishop of
Durham has been at such vast pains to construct, vanishes like the
dreams and visions of his leading witness, the hypochondriac
Archbishop Ussher and others, who have carefully investigated the
subject, have placed in A.D. 169 the martyrdom of Polycarp. The
following reasons may be assigned why this date is decidedly
preferable to that contended for by Dr. Lightfoot.
1. All the surrounding circumstances point to the reign of Marcus
Aurelius as the date of the martyrdom. Eusebius has preserved an
edict, said to have been issued by Antoninus Pius, in which he
announces that he had written to the governors of provinces "not
to trouble the Christians at all, unless they appeared to make
attempts against the Roman government." [44:2] Doubts--it may be,
well founded--have been entertained as to the genuineness of this
ordinance; but it has been pretty generally acknowledged that it
fairly indicates the policy of Antoninus Pius. "Though certainly
spurious," says Dr. Lightfoot, "it represents the conception of
him entertained by Christians in the generations next succeeding
his own." [45:1] In his reign, the disciples of our Lord,
according to the declarations of their own apologists, were
treated with special indulgence. Melito, for example, who wrote
not long after the middle of the second century, bears this
testimony. Capitolinus, an author who flourished about the close
of the third century, reports that Antoninus Pius lived "without
bloodshed, either of citizen or foe," during his reign of twenty-two
years. [45:2] Dr. Lightfoot strives again and again to evade
the force of this evidence, and absurdly quotes the sufferings of
Polycarp and his companions as furnishing a contradiction; but he
thus only takes for granted what he has elsewhere failed to prove.
He admits, at the same time, that this case stands alone. "_The
only recorded martyrdoms_," says he, "in Proconsular Asia during
his reign [that of Antoninus Pius] are those of Polycarp and his
companions." [45:3] It must, however, be obvious that he cannot
establish even this exception. We have seen that the chronology
supported by the Bishop of Durham is at variance with the express
statements of all the early Christian writers; and certain facts
mentioned in the letter of the Smyrnaeans concur to demonstrate
its inaccuracy. The description there given of the sufferings
endured by those of whom it speaks, supplies abundant evidence
that the martyrdoms must have happened in the time of Marcus Aurelius.
Dr. Lightfoot himself attests that "persecutions extended throughout
this reign;" that they were "fierce and deliberate;" and that they
were "_aggravated by cruel tortures_." [46:1] Such precisely were
the barbarities reported in this Epistle. It states that the martyrs
"were so torn by lashes that the mechanism of their flesh was visible,
even as far as the inward veins and arteries;" that, notwithstanding,
they were enabled to "endure the fire;" and that those who were
finally "condemned to the wild beasts" meanwhile "suffered fearful
punishments, _being made to lie on sharp shells, and buffeted with
other forms of manifold tortures._" [46:2] These words attest
that, before the Christians were put to death, various expedients
were employed to extort from them a recantation. Such was the mode
of treatment recommended by Marcus Aurelius. In an edict issued
against those who professed the gospel by this emperor, we have
the following directions: "Let them be arrested, and unless they
offer to the gods, _let them be punished with divers tortures._" [46:3]
"Various means," says Neander, "were employed to constrain
them to a renunciation of their faith; and only in the last
extremity, when they could not be forced to submit, was the
punishment of death to be inflicted." [46:4] This, undoubtedly,
was the inauguration of a new system of persecution. In former
times, the Christians who refused to apostatize were summarily
consigned to execution. Now, they were horribly tormented in
various ways, with a view to compel them to abandon their
religion. This new policy is characteristic of the reign of
Marcus Aurelius. Nothing akin to it, sanctioned by Imperial
authority, can be found in the time of any preceding emperor.
Its employment now in the case of Polycarp and his companions
fixes the date of the martyrdom to this reign.
2. We have distinct proof that the visit of Polycarp to Rome took
place _after_ the date assigned by Bishop Lightfoot to his
martyrdom! Eusebius tells us that, in the _first_ year of the
reign of Antoninus Pius, [47:1] Telesphorus of Rome died, and was
succeeded in his charge by Hyginus. [47:2] He subsequently informs
us that Hyginus dying "_after the fourth year of his office,_"
was succeeded by Pius; and he then adds that Pius dying at Rome,
"in the _fifteenth_ year of his episcopate," was succeeded by
Anicetus. [47:3] It was in the time of this chief pastor that
Polycarp paid his visit to the Imperial city. It is apparent from
the foregoing statements that Anicetus could not have entered on
his office until at least nineteen, or perhaps twenty years, after
Antoninus Pius became emperor, that is, until A.D. 157, or
possibly until A.D. 158. This, however, is two or three years
after the date assigned by Dr. Lightfoot for the martyrdom.
Surely the Bishop of Durham would not have us to believe that
Polycarp reappeared in Rome two or three years after he expired
on the funeral pile; and yet it is only by some such desperate
supposition that he can make his chronology square with the
history of the apostolic Father.
It is not at all probable that Polycarp arrived in Rome immediately
after the appointment of Anicetus as chief pastor. The account
of his visit, as given by Irenaeus, rather suggests that a
considerable time must meanwhile have elapsed before he made his
appearance there. It would seem that he had been disturbed by
reports which had reached him relative to innovations with which
Anicetus was identified; and that, apprehending mischief to the
whole Christian community from anything going amiss in a Church of
such importance, he was prompted, at his advanced age, to
undertake so formidable a journey, in the hope that, by the weight
of his personal influence with his brethren in the Imperial city,
he might be able to arrest the movement. It is not necessary now
to inquire more particularly what led the venerable Asiatic
presbyter at this period to travel all the way from Smyrna to the
seat of empire. It is enough for us to know, as regards the
question before us, that it took place sometime during the
pastorate of Anicetus; that Polycarp effected much good by his
dealings with errorists when in Rome; and that its chief Christian
minister, by his tact and discretion, succeeded in quieting the
fears of the aged stranger. That the visit occurred long after the
date assigned by Dr. Lightfoot for his martyrdom, may now be
evident; and in a former chapter proof has been adduced to show
that it must be dated, not, as the Bishop of Durham argues, about
A.D. 154, but in A.D. 161. Neither is there any evidence whatever
that Polycarp was put to death immediately after his return to
Smyrna. This supposition is absolutely necessary to give even an
appearance of plausibility to the bishop's chronology; but he has
not been able to furnish so much as a solitary reason for its
3. We have good grounds for believing that the martyrdom of
Polycarp occurred not earlier than A.D. 169. This date fulfils
better than any other the conditions enumerated in the letter of
the Smyrnaeans. Archbishop Ussher has been at pains to show that
the month and day there mentioned precisely correspond to and
verify this reckoning. It is unnecessary here to repeat his
calculations; but it is right to notice another item spoken of in
the Smyrnaean Epistle, supplying an additional confirmatory proof
which the Bishop of Durham cannot well ignore. When Polycarp was
pressed to apostatize by the officials who had him in custody,
they pleaded with him as if anxious to save his life--"Why, what
harm is there in saying _Caesar is Lord_, and offering incense?"
and they urged him to "_swear by the genius of Caesar_" [50:1]
These words suggest that, at the time of this transaction, the
Roman world had only one emperor. In January A.D. 169, L. Verus
died. After recording this event in his _Imperial Fasti_,
Dr. Lightfoot adds, "M. Aurelius is now _sole emperor_." [50:2]
When he is contending for A.D. 155 as the date of the martyrdom,
he lays much stress on the fact that "throughout this Smyrnaean
letter _the singular_ is used of the emperor." "Polycarp," he
says, "is urged to declare 'Caesar is Lord;' he is bidden, and he
refuses to swear by the 'genius of Caesar.'" "It is," he adds, "at
least a matter of surprise that these forms should be persistently
used, if the event had happened _during a divided sovereignty_." [50:3]
The bishop cannot, at this stage of the discussion, decently
refuse to recognise the potency of his own argument.
The three reasons just enumerated show conclusively that A.D. 155,
for which the Bishop of Durham contends so strenuously, cannot be
accepted as the date of the martyrdom. For some years after this,
Anicetus was not placed at the head of the Church of the Imperial
city; and he must have been for a considerable time in that
position, when Polycarp paid his visit to Rome. We have seen that
the aged pastor of Smyrna suffered in the reign of Marcus Aurelius;
and that A.D. 169 is the earliest period to which we can refer
the martyrdom, inasmuch as that was the first year in which
Marcus Aurelius was sole emperor. All the reliable chronological
indications point to this as the more correct reckoning.
It has now, we believe, been demonstrated by a series of solid and
concurring testimonies, that Archbishop Ussher made no mistake
when he fixed on A.D. 169 as the proper date of Polycarp's
martyrdom. The bearing of this conclusion on the question of the
Ignatian Epistles must at once be apparent. Polycarp was eighty-six
years of age at the time of his death; and it follows that in
A.D. 107,--or sixty-two years before,--when the Ignatian letters
are alleged to have been dictated, he was only four-and-twenty.
The absurdity of believing that at such an age he wrote the
Epistle to the Philippians, or that another apostolic Father would
then have addressed him in the style employed in the Ignatian
correspondence, must be plain to every reader of ordinary
intelligence. No wonder that the advocates of the genuineness of
these Epistles have called into requisition such an enormous
amount of ingenuity and erudition to pervert the chronology.
Pearson, as we have seen, spent six years in this service; and the
learned Bishop of Durham has been engaged "off and on" for nearly
thirty in the same labour. At the close of his long task he seems
to have persuaded himself that he has been quite successful; and
speaking of the theory of Dr. Cureton, he adopts a tone of triumph,
and exclaims: "I venture to hope that the discussion which follows
will extinguish the last sparks of its waning life." [51:1] It
remains for the candid reader to ponder the statements submitted
to him in this chapter, and to determine how many sparks of life
now remain in the bishop's chronology.
THE TESTIMONY OF IRENAEUS, AND THE GENESIS OF PRELACY.
1. _The Testimony of Irenaeus._
The only two vouchers of the second century produced in support of
the claims of the Epistles attributed to Ignatius, are the letter
of Polycarp to the Philippians and a sentence from the treatise of
Irenaeus _Against Heresies_. The evidence from Polycarp's Epistle
has been discussed in a preceding chapter. When examined, it has
completely broken down, as it is based on an entire misconception
of the meaning of the writer. The words of Irenaeus can be adduced
with still less plausibility to uphold the credit of these letters.
The following is the passage in which they are supposed to be
authenticated: "_One of our people said_, when condemned to the
beasts on account of his testimony towards God--'As I am the
wheat of God, I am also ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may
be found the pure bread of God.'" [53:1] It is worse than a mere
begging of the question to assert that Irenaeus here gives us a
quotation from one of the letters of Ignatius. In the extensive
treatise from which the words are an extract, he never once
mentions the name of the pastor of Antioch. Had he been aware of
the existence of these Epistles, he would undoubtedly have availed
himself of their assistance when contending against the heretics--
as they would have furnished him with many passages exactly suited
for their refutation. The words of a man taught by the apostles,
occupying one of the highest positions in the Christian Church,
and finishing his career by a glorious martyrdom in the very
beginning of the second century, would have been by far the
weightiest evidence he could have produced, next to the teaching
of inspiration. But though he brings forward Clemens Romanus,
Papias, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, [54:1] and others to confront the
errorists, he ignores a witness whose antiquity and weight of
character would have imparted peculiar significance to his
testimony. To say that though he never names him elsewhere, he
points to him in this place as "one of our people," is to make a
very bold and improbable statement. Even the Apostle Paul himself
would not have ventured to describe the evangelist John in this
way. He would have alluded to him more respectfully. Neither would
the pastor of a comparatively uninfluential church in the south of
Gaul have expressed himself after this fashion when speaking of a
minister who had been one of the most famous of the spiritual
heroes of the Church. Not many years before, a terrific persecution
had raged in his own city of Lyons; many had been put in prison,
and some had been thrown to wild beasts; [55:1] and it is obviously
to one of these anonymous sufferers that Irenaeus here directs
attention. The "one of our people" is not certainly an apostolic
Father; but some citizen of Lyons, moving in a different sphere,
whose name the author does not deem it necessary to enrol in the
record of history. Neither is it to a _written_ correspondence,
but to the _dying words_ of the unknown martyr, to which he adverts
when we read,--"One of our people _said_, As I am the wheat of God,
I am also ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be found the
pure bread of God."
The two witnesses of the second century who are supposed to uphold
the claims of the Ignatian Epistles have now been examined, and it
must be apparent that their testimony amounts to nothing. Thus
far, then, there is no external evidence whatever in favour of
these letters. The result of this investigation warrants the
suspicion that they are forgeries. [55:2] The internal evidence
abundantly confirms this impression. Any one who carefully peruses
them, and then reads over the Epistle of Clemens Romanus, the
Teaching of the Apostles, the writings of Justin Martyr, and the
Epistle of Polycarp, may see that the works just named are the
productions of quite another period. The Ignatian letters describe
a state of things which they totally ignore. Dr. Lightfoot himself
has been at pains to point out the wonderful difference between
the Ignatian correspondence and the Epistle of Polycarp. "In
whatever way," says he, "we test the documents, the contrast is
very striking,--more striking, indeed, than we should have
expected to find between two Christian writers who lived at the
same time and were personally acquainted with each other." [56:1]
He then proceeds to mention some of the points of contrast. Whilst
the so-called Ignatius lays stress on Episcopacy "as the key-stone
of the ecclesiastical order," Polycarp, in his Epistle, from first
to last makes "no mention of the Episcopate," and "the bishop is
entirely ignored." In regard to doctrinal statement the same
contrariety is apparent. Ignatius speaks of "the blood of God" and
"the passion of my God," whilst no such language is used by
Polycarp. Again, in the letter of the pastor of Smyrna, there is
"an entire absence of that sacramental language which confronts us
again and again in the most startling forms in Ignatius." [57:1]
"Though the seven Ignatian letters are many times longer than
Polycarp's Epistle, the quotations in the latter are incomparably
more numerous as well as more precise than in the former." In the
Ignatian letters, of "quotations from the New Testament, strictly
speaking, there is none." [57:2] "Of all the Fathers of the
Church, early or later, no one is more incisive or more persistent
in advocating the claims of the threefold ministry to allegiance
than Ignatius." [57:3] Polycarp, on the other hand, has written a
letter "which has proved a stronghold of Presbyterianism." [57:4]
And yet Dr. Lightfoot would have us to believe that these various
letters were written by two ministers living at the same time,
taught by the same instructors, holding the closest intercourse
with each other, professing the same doctrines, and adhering to
the same ecclesiastical arrangements!
The features of distinction between the teaching of the Ignatian
letters and the teaching of Polycarp, which have been pointed out
by Dr. Lightfoot himself, are sufficiently striking; but his
Lordship has not exhibited nearly the full amount of the contrast.
Ignatius is described as offering himself voluntarily that he may
suffer as a martyr, and as telling those to whom he writes that
his supreme desire is to be devoured by the lions at Rome. "I
desire," says he, "to fight with wild beasts." [57:5] "May I have
joy of the beasts that have been prepared for me ... I will entice
them that they may devour me promptly." [58:1] "Though I desire to
suffer, yet I know not whether I am worthy." [58:2] "I delivered
myself over to death." [58:3] "I bid all men know that of my own
free will I die for God." [58:4] The Church, instructed by
Polycarp, condemns this insane ambition for martyrdom. "We praise
not those," say the Smyrnaeans, "who deliver themselves up, _since
the gospel does not so teach us_." [58:5] In these letters
Ignatius speaks as a vain babbler, drunken with fanaticism;
Polycarp, in his Epistle, expresses himself like an humble-minded
Presbyterian minister in his sober senses. Ignatius is made to
address Polycarp as if he were a full-blown prelate, and tells the
people under his care, "He that honoureth the bishop is honoured
of God; he that doth aught against the knowledge of the bishop,
rendereth service to the devil" [58:6] Polycarp, on the other
hand, describes himself as one of the elders, and exhorts the
Philippians to "submit to the presbyters and deacons," and to be
"all subject one to another." [58:7] When their Church had got into
a state of confusion, and when they applied to him for advice, he
recommended them "to walk in the commandment of the Lord," and
admonished their "presbyters to be compassionate and merciful
towards all men," [58:8]--never hinting that the appointment of
a bishop would help to keep them in order; whereas, when Ignatius
addresses various Churches,--that of the Smyrnaeans included,--he
assumes a tone of High Churchmanship which Archbishop Laud himself
would have been afraid, and perhaps ashamed, to emulate. "As many
as are of God and of Jesus Christ," says he, "they are with the
bishop." "It is good to recognise God and the bishop!" "Give ye
heed to the bishop, that God may also give heed to you." [59:1]
The internal evidence furnished by the Ignatian Epistles seals
their condemnation. I do not intend, however, at present to pursue
this subject. In a work published by me six and twenty years
ago, [59:2] I have called attention to various circumstances which
betray the imposture; and neither Dr. Lightfoot, Zahn, nor any one
else, so far as I am aware, has ever yet ventured to deal with my
arguments. I might now add new evidences of their fabrication, but
I deem this unnecessary. I cannot, however, pass from this
department of the question in debate, without protesting against
the view presented by the Bishop of Durham of the origin of
Prelacy. "It is shown," says he, referring to his _Essay on the
Christian Ministry_, [59:3] "that though the New Testament itself
contains as yet no direct and indisputable notices of a localized
episcopate in the Gentile Churches, as distinguished from the
moveable episcopate exercised by Timothy in Ephesus and by Titus
in Crete, yet there is satisfactory evidence of its development in
the later years of the apostolic age, ... and that, in the early
years of the second century, the episcopate was widely spread and
had taken firm root, more especially in Asia Minor and in Syria.
If the evidence on which its extension in the regions east of the
Aegaean at this epoch be resisted, _I am at a loss to understand
what single fact relating to the history of the Christian Church
during the first half of the second century can be regarded as
In this statement, as well as in not a few others already
submitted to the reader, Dr. Lightfoot has expressed himself with
an amount of confidence which may well excite astonishment. It
would not be difficult to show that his speculations as to the
development of Episcopacy in Asia Minor and Syria in the early
years of the second century, as presented in the Essay to which he
refers, are the merest moonshine. On what grounds can he maintain
that Timothy exercised what he calls a "moveable episcopate" in
Ephesus? Paul besought him to abide there for a time that he might
withstand errorists, and he gave him instructions as to how he was
to behave himself in the house of God; [60:2] but it did not
therefore follow that he was either a bishop or an archbishop.
He was an able man, sound in the faith, wise and energetic;
and, as he was thus a host in himself, Paul expected that
meanwhile he would be eminently useful in helping the less
gifted ministers who were in the place to repress error and keep
the Church in order. That Paul intended to establish neither a
moveable nor an immoveable episcopate in Ephesus, is obvious from
his own testimony; for when he addresses its elders,--as he
believed for the last time,--he ignored their submission to any
ecclesiastical superior, and committed the Church to their own
supervision. [61:1] And if he left Titus in Crete to take
charge of the organization of the Church there, he certainly
did not intend that the evangelist was to act alone. In those days
there was no occasion for the services of a diocesan bishop,
inasmuch as the Christian community was governed by the common
council of the elders, and ordination was performed "with the
laying on of the hands of the Presbytery." [61:2] Titus
was a master builder, and Paul believed that, proceeding in
concert with the ministers in Crete, he would render effectual aid
in carrying forward the erection of the ecclesiastical edifice.
And what proof has Dr. Lightfoot produced to show that "the
episcopate was widely spread in Asia Minor and in Syria" in "the
early years of the second century"? If the Ignatian Epistles be
discredited, he has none at all. But there is very decisive
evidence to the contrary. The Teaching of the Apostles, the
Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle of Polycarp prove the very
reverse. And yet Dr. Lightfoot is at a loss to understand what
single fact relating to the history of the Christian Church during
the first half of the second century can be regarded as
established, if we reject his baseless assertion!
2. _The Genesis of Prelacy._
Jerome gives us the true explanation of the origin of the
episcopate, when he tells us that it was set up with a view to
prevent divisions in the Church. [62:1] These divisions were
created chiefly by the Gnostics, who swarmed in some of the
great cities of the empire towards the middle of the second
century. About that time the president of the Presbytery
was in a few places armed with additional authority, in the hope
that he would thus be the better able to repress schism. The new
system was inaugurated in Rome, and its Church has ever since
maintained the proud boast that it is the centre of ecclesiastical
unity. From the Imperial city Episcopacy gradually radiated over
all Christendom. The position assumed by Dr. Lightfoot--that it
commenced in Jerusalem--is without any solid foundation. To
support it, he is obliged to adopt the fable that James was the
first bishop of the mother Church. The New Testament ignores this
story, and tells us explicitly that James was only one of the
"pillars," or ruling spirits, among the Christians of the Jewish
capital. [62:2] The very same kind of argumentation employed
to establish the prelacy of James, may be used, with far greater
plausibility, to demonstrate the primacy of Peter. Dr. Lightfoot
himself acknowledges that, about the close of the first century,
we cannot find a trace of the episcopate in either of the two
great Christian Churches of Rome and Corinth. [63:1] "At the close
of the first century," says he, "Clement writes to Corinth, as at
the beginning of the second century Polycarp writes to Philippi.
As in the latter Epistle, so in the former, there is no allusion
to the episcopal office." [63:2] He might have said that, even
after the middle of the second century, it did not exist either in
Smyrna or Philippi. He admits also, that "as late as the close of
the second century, the bishop of Alexandria was regarded as
distinct, and yet not as distinct from the Presbytery." [63:3]
"The first bishop of Alexandria," says he, "of whom any distinct
incident is recorded on trustworthy authority, was a contemporary
of Origen," [63:4] who flourished in the third century.
Dr. Lightfoot tells us in the same place, that "at Alexandria
the bishop was nominated and apparently ordained by the twelve
presbyters out of their own number." [63:5] Instead of asserting,
as has been done, that no single fact relating to the history of
the Christian Church during the first half of the second century
can be regarded as established, if we deny that the episcopate was
widely spread in the early years of the second century in Asia
Minor and elsewhere, it may be fearlessly affirmed that, at the
date here mentioned, there is not a particle of proof that it was
Irenaeus could have given an account of the genesis of Episcopacy,
for he lived throughout the period of its original development;
but he has taken care not to lift the veil which covers its
mysterious commencement. He could have told what prompted Polycarp
to undertake a journey to Rome when burthened with the weight of
years; but he has left us to our own surmises. It is, however,
significant that the presbyterian system was kept up in Smyrna
long after the death of its aged martyr. [64:1] Dr. Lightfoot has
well observed that "Irenaeus was probably the most learned
Christian of his time;" [64:2] and it is pretty clear that he
contributed much to promote the acceptance of the episcopal
theory. When arguing with the heretics, he coined the doctrine of
the apostolical succession, and maintained that the true faith was
propagated to his own age through an unbroken line of bishops from
the days of the apostles. To make out his case, he was
necessitated to speak of the presidents of the presbyteries as
bishops, [64:3] and to ignore the change which had meanwhile taken
place in the ecclesiastical Constitution. Subsequent writers
followed in his wake, and thus it is that the beginnings of
Episcopacy have been enveloped in so much obscurity. Even in Rome,
the seat of the most prominent Church in Christendom, it is
impossible to settle the order in which its early presiding
pastors were arranged. "Come we to Rome," says Stillingfleet, "and
here the succession is as muddy as the Tiber itself; for here
Tertullian, Rufinus, and several others, place Clement next to
Peter. Irenaeus and Eusebius set Anacletus before him; Epiphanius
and Optatus, both Anacletus and Cletus; Augustinus and Damasus,
with others, make Anacletus, Cletus, and Linus all to precede
him. What way shall we find to extricate ourselves out of this
labyrinth?" [65:1] The different lists preserved attest that there
was no such continuous and homogeneous line of bishops as the doctrine
of the apostolical succession implies. When Irenaeus speaks of
Polycarp as having "received his appointment in Asia from apostles
as bishop in the Church of Smyrna," [65:2] he makes a statement
which, literally understood, even Dr. Lightfoot hesitates to
endorse. [65:3] The Apostle John may have seen Polycarp in his
boyhood, and may have predicted his future eminence as a Christian
minister,--just as Timothy was pointed out by prophecy [66:1]
as destined to be a champion of the faith. When Episcopacy was
introduced, its abettors tried to manufacture a little literary
capital out of some such incident; but the allegation that
Polycarp was ordained to the episcopal office by the apostles, is
a fable that does not require refutation. Almost all of them were
dead before he was born. [66:2]
THE FORGERY OF THE IGNATIAN EPISTLES.
If, as there is every reason to believe, the Ignatian Epistles
are forgeries from beginning to end, various questions arise as to
the time of their appearance, and the circumstances which prompted
their fabrication. Their origin, like that of many other writings
of the same description, cannot be satisfactorily explored; and we
must in vain attempt a solution of all the objections which may be
urged against almost any hypothesis framed to elucidate their
history. It is, however, pretty clear that, in their original
form, they first saw the light in the early part of the third
century. About that time there was evidently something like a
mania for the composition of such works,--as various spurious
writings, attributed to Clemens Romanus and others, abundantly
testify. Their authors do not seem to have been aware of the
impropriety of committing these pious frauds, and may even have
imagined that they were thus doing God service. [67:1] Several
circumstances suggest that Callistus--who became Bishop of Rome
about A.D. 219--may, before his advancement to the episcopal
chair, have had a hand in the preparation of these Ignatian
Epistles. His history is remarkable. He was originally a slave,
and in early life he is reported to have been the child of
misfortune. He had at one time the care of a bank, in the
management of which he did not prosper. He was at length banished
to Sardinia, to labour there as a convict in the mines; and when
released from servitude in that unhealthy island, he was brought
under the notice of Victor, the Roman bishop. To his bounty he
was, about this time, indebted for his support. [68:1] On the
death of Victor, Callistus became a prime favourite with
Zephyrinus, the succeeding bishop. By him he was put in charge of
the cemetery of the Christians connected with the Catacombs; and
he soon attained the most influential position among the Roman
clergy. So great was his popularity, that, on the demise of his
patron, he was himself unanimously chosen to the episcopal office
in the chief city of the empire. Callistus was no ordinary man.
He was a kind of original in his way. He possessed a considerable
amount of literary culture. He took a prominent part in the
current theological controversies,--and yet, if we are to believe
Hippolytus, he could accommodate himself to the views of different
schools of doctrine. He had great versatility of talent, restless
activity, deep cunning, and much force of character. Hippolytus
tells us that he was sadly given to intrigue, and so slippery in
his movements that it was no easy matter to entangle him in a
dilemma. It may have occurred to him that, in the peculiar
position of the Church, the concoction of a series of letters,
written in the name of an apostolic Father, and vigorously
asserting the claims of the bishops, would help much to strengthen
the hands of the hierarchy. He might thus manage at the same time
quietly to commend certain favourite views of doctrine, and aid
the pretensions of the Roman chief pastor. But the business must
be kept a profound secret; and the letters must, if possible, be
so framed as not at once to awaken suspicion. If we carefully
examine them, we shall find that they were well fitted to escape
detection at the time when they were written.
The internal evidence warrants the conclusion that the Epistle to
the Romans was the first produced. It came forth alone; and, if it
crept into circulation originally in the Imperial city, it was not
likely to provoke there any hostile criticism. It is occupied
chiefly with giving expression to the personal feelings of the
supposed writer in the prospect of martyrdom. It scarcely touches
on the question of ecclesiastical regimen; and it closes by
soliciting the prayers of the Roman brethren for "the Church which
is in Syria." [69:1] "If," says Dr. Lightfoot, "Ignatius had not
incidentally mentioned himself as the Bishop 'of' or 'from Syria,'
the letter to the Romans would have contained no indication of the
existence of the episcopal office" [70:1] Whilst observing this
studied silence on the subject which above all others occupied his
thoughts, the writer was craftily preparing the way for the more
ready reception of the letters which were to follow. The Epistle
to the Romans tacitly embodies their credentials. It slyly takes
advantage of the connection of the name of Ignatius with Syria in
the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians; assumes that Syria is
the eastern province; and represents Ignatius as a bishop from
that part of the empire on his way to die at Rome. It does not
venture to say that the Western capital had then a bishop of its
own,--for the Epistle of Clemens, which was probably in many
hands, and which ignored the episcopal office there--might thus
have suggested doubts as to its genuineness; but it tells the
sensational story of the journey of Ignatius in chains, from east
to west, in the custody of what are called "ten leopards." This
tale at the time was likely to be exceedingly popular. Ever since
the rise of Montanism--which made its appearance about the time of
the death of Polycarp--there had been an increasing tendency all
over the Church to exaggerate the merits of martyrdom. This
tendency reached its fullest development in the early part of the
third century. The letter of Ignatius to the Romans exhibits it in
the height of its folly. Ignatius proclaims his most earnest
desire to be torn to pieces by the lions, and entreats the Romans
not to interfere and deprive him of a privilege which he coveted
so ardently. The words reported by Irenaeus as uttered by one of
the martyrs of Lyons are adroitly appropriated by the pseudo-Ignatius
as if spoken by himself; and, in an uncritical age, when the
subject-matter of the communication was otherwise so much to
the taste of the reader, the quotation helped to establish the
credit of the Ignatian correspondence. Another portion of the
letter was sure to be extremely acceptable to the Church of Rome--
for here the writer is most lavish in his complimentary
acknowledgements. That Church is described as "having the
presidency in the country of the region of the Romans, being
worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of felicitation, worthy
of praise, worthy of success, worthy in purity, and having the
presidency of love, filled with the grace of God, without
wavering, and filtered clear from every foreign stain."
"The Epistle to the Romans," says Dr. Lightfoot, "had a wider
popularity than the other letters of Ignatius, both early and
late. It appears to have been circulated apart from them,
sometimes alone." [71:1] It was put forth as a feeler, to discover
how the public would be disposed to entertain such a correspondence;
and, in case of its favourable reception, it was intended to open
the way for additional Epistles. It was cleverly contrived. It
employed the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians as a kind of
voucher for its authenticity, inasmuch as it is there stated that
Ignatius had written a number of letters; and it contained little
or nothing which any one in that age would have been disposed to
controvert. The Christians of Rome had long enjoyed the reputation
of a community ennobled by the blood of martyrs, and they would be
quite willing to believe that Ignatius had contributed to their
celebrity by dying for the faith within their borders. It is very
doubtful whether he really finished his career there: some ancient
authorities attest that he suffered at Antioch; [72:1] and the fact
that, in the fourth century, his grave was pointed out in that
locality, apparently supports their testimony. [72:2] The account
of his hurried removal as a prisoner from Antioch to Rome, in the
custody of ten fierce soldiers--whilst he was permitted, as he
passed along, to hold something like a levee of his co-religionists
at every stage of his journey--wears very much the appearance of
an ill-constructed fiction. But the disciples at Rome about this
period were willing to be credulous in such matters; and thus it
was that this tale of martyrdom was permitted to pass unchallenged.
In due time the author of the letters, as they appeared one after
another, accomplished the design of their composition. The question
of the constitution of the Church had recently awakened much
attention; and the threat of Victor to excommunicate the Christians
of Asia Minor, because they ventured to differ from him as to the
mode of celebrating the Paschal festival, had, no doubt, led to
discussions relative to the claims of episcopal authority which,
at Rome especially, were felt to be very inconvenient and
uncomfortable. No one could well maintain that it had a scriptural
warrant. The few who were acquainted with its history were aware
that it was only a human arrangement of comparatively recent
introduction; and yet a bishop who threatened with excommunication
such as refused to submit to his mandates, could scarcely be
expected to make such a confession. Irenaeus had sanctioned its
establishment; but, when Victor became so overbearing, he took the
alarm, and told him plainly that those who presided over the
Church of Rome before him were nothing but presbyters. [73:1] This
was rather an awkward disclosure; and it was felt by the friends
of the new order that some voucher was required to help it in its
hour of need, and to fortify its pretensions. The letters of an
apostolic Father strongly asserting its claims could not fail to
give it encouragement. We can thus understand how at this crisis
these Epistles were forthcoming. They were admirably calculated to
quiet the public mind. They were comparatively short, so that they
could be easily read; and they were quite to the point, for they
taught that we are to "regard the bishop as the Lord Himself," and
that "he presides after the likeness of God." [74:1] Who after all
this could doubt the claims of Episcopacy? Should not the words of
an apostolic Father put an end to all farther questionings?
Hippolytus, who was his contemporary, has given us much information
in relation to Callistus. He writes, indeed, in an unfriendly spirit;
but he speaks, notwithstanding, as an honest man; and we cannot well
reject his statements as destitute of foundation. His account of
the general facts in the career of this Roman bishop obviously rest
on a substratum of truth. As we read these Ignatian letters, it
may occur to us that the real author sometimes betrays his identity.
Callistus had been originally a slave, and he here represents
Ignatius as saying of himself, "I am a slave." [74:2] Callistus
had been a convict, and more than once this Ignatius declares,
"I am a convict." [74:3] May he not thus intend to remind his
co-religionists at Rome that an illustrious bishop and martyr
had once been a slave and a convict like himself? Callistus,
when labouring in the mines of Sardinia, must have been well
acquainted with ropes and hoists; and here Ignatius describes
the Ephesians as "hoisted up to the heights through the engine
of Jesus Christ," having faith as their "windlass," and as
"using for a rope the Holy Spirit." [74:4] Callistus had at one
time been in charge of a bank; and Ignatius, in one of these
Epistles, is made to say, "Let your works be your _deposits_, that
you may receive your _assets_ due to you." [75:1] Callistus also
had charge of the Christian cemetery in the Roman Catacombs; and
Ignatius here expresses himself as one familiar with graves and
funerals. He speaks of a heretic as "being himself a bearer of a
corpse," and of those inclined to Judaism "as tombstones and
graves of the dead." [75:2] It is rather singular that, in these
few short letters, we find so many expressions which point to
Callistus as the writer. There are, however, other matters which
warrant equally strong suspicions. Hippolytus tells us that
Callistus was a Patripassian. "The Father," said he, "having taken
human nature, deified it by uniting it to Himself, ... and so he
said that the Father had suffered with the Son." [75:3] Hence
Ignatius, in these Epistles, startles us by such expressions as
"the blood of God," [75:4] and "the passion of my God." [75:5]
Callistus is accused by Hippolytus as a trimmer prepared, as
occasion served, to conciliate different parties in the Church
by appearing to adopt their views. Sometimes he sided with
Hippolytus, and sometimes with those opposed to him; hence it is
that the theology taught in these letters is of a very equivocal
character. Dr. Lightfoot has seized upon this fact as a reason
that they are never quoted by Irenaeus. "The language approaching
dangerously near to heresy might," says he, "have led him to avoid
directly quoting the doctrinal teaching." [76:1] A much better
reason was that he had never heard of these letters; and yet their
theology is exactly such a piebald production as might have been
expected from Callistus.
It is not easy to understand how Dr. Lightfoot has brought himself
to believe that these Ignatian Epistles were written in the
beginning of the second century. "_Throughout the whole range of
Christian literature_," says he, "no more uncompromising advocacy
of the episcopate can be found than appears in these writings ...
It is when asserting the claims of the episcopal office to
obedience and respect that the language is _strained to the
utmost_. The bishops established _in the farthest part of the
world_ are in the counsels of Jesus Christ." [76:2] It is simply
incredible that such a state of things could have existed six or
seven years after the death of the Apostle John. All the extant
writings for sixty years after the alleged date of the martyrdom
of Ignatius demonstrate the utter falsehood of these letters. It
is certain that they employ a terminology, and develop Church
principles unknown before the beginning of the third century, and
which were not current even then. The forger, whoever he may have
been, has displayed no little art and address in their fabrication.
From all that we know of Callistus, he was quite equal to the task.
Like the false Decretals, these letters exerted much influence on
the subsequent history of the Church. Cyprian, though he never
mentions them, [77:1] speedily caught their spirit. His assertion
of episcopal authority is quite in the same style. Origen visited
Rome shortly after they appeared; he is the first writer who
recognises them; and it is worthy of note that, of the three
quotations from them found in his works, two are from the Epistle
to the Romans. It is quite within the range of possibility that
evidence may yet be forthcoming to prove that they emanated from
one of the early popes. They are worthy of such an origin. They
recommend that blind and slavish submission to ecclesiastical
dictation which the so-called successors of Peter have ever since
inculcated. "It need hardly be remarked," says Dr. Lightfoot,
"how subversive of the true spirit of Christianity, in the negation
of individual freedom and the consequent suppression of direct
responsibility to God in Christ, is the _crushing despotism_ with
which" the language of these letters, "if taken literally, would
invest the episcopal office." [77:2] And yet, having devoted
nearly thirty years off and on to the study of these Epistles,
the Bishop of Durham maintains that we have here the genuine
writings of an apostolic Father who was instructed by the inspired
founders of the Christian Church!!
In this Review no notice is taken of the various forms of these
Epistles. If they are all forgeries, it is not worth while to
spend time in discussing the merits of the several editions.
LETTER OF THE LATE DR. CURETON.
Immediately after the appearance of the second edition of
_The Ancient Church_, a copy of it was sent to the late
Rev. W. Cureton, D.D., Canon of Westminster--the well-known author
of various publications relating to the Ignatian Epistles. It was
considered only due to that distinguished scholar to call his
attention to a work in which he was so prominently noticed, and in
which various arguments were adduced to prove that all the letters
he had edited are utterly spurious. In a short time that gentleman
acknowledged the presentation of the volume in a most kind and
courteous communication, which will be read with special interest
by all who have studied the Ignatian controversy. I give the
letter entire--just as it reached me. It was published several
years ago, appended to my _Old Catholic Church_.
DEANS YARD, WESTMINSTER, _Sept._ 24, 1861.
DEAR SIR,--I beg to thank you very much for your kindness in
sending me a valuable contribution to Ecclesiastical History in
your book, _The Ancient Church_, which I found here upon my return
to London two or three days ago. How much would it contribute to
the promotion of charity and the advancement of the truth were all
who combated the opinions and views of another to give him the
means of seeing what was written fairly and openly, and not to
endeavour to overthrow his arguments without his knowledge. This
will indeed ever be the case when truth is sought for itself, and
no personal feelings enter into the matter.
I have read your chapters on Ignatius, and you will perhaps hardly
expect that I should subscribe to your views. It is now about
twenty years since I first undertook this inquiry, and constantly
have I been endeavouring to add some new light ever since. I once
answered an opponent in my present brother canon, Dr. Wordsworth,
but since that time I have never replied to any adverse views--but
have only looked to see if I could find anything either to show
that I was wrong or to strengthen my convictions that I was right.
And I have found the wisdom of this, and have had the satisfaction
of knowing that my ablest opponents, after having had more time to
inquire and to make greater research, have of their own accord
conformed to my views and written in their support.
I attach no very great importance to the Epistles of Ignatius.
I shall not draw from them any dogma. I only look upon them as
evidence of the time to certain facts, which indeed were amply
established even without such evidence. I think that in such
cases, we must look chiefly to the historical testimony of facts;
and you will forgive me for saying that I think your arguments are
based upon presumptive evidence, negative evidence, and the
evidence of appropriateness--all of which, however valuable, must
tumble to the ground before one single fact. You notice that
Archbishop Ussher doubted the Epistle to Polycarp. But why? simply
because its style (not having been altered by the forger) was
different from the rest. But you know he says there was more
_historical_ evidence in its favour than for any of the rest.
It thus becomes an argument in support of the Syriac text instead
of against it. Can you explain how it happens that the Syriac text,
found in the very language of Ignatius himself, and transcribed
many hundreds of years before the Ignatian controversy was thought
of, now it is discovered, should contain only the _three Epistles_
of the existence of which there is any historical evidence before
the time of Eusebius, and that, although it may contain some
things which you do not approve, still has rejected all the
passages which the critics of the Ignatian controversy protested
against? You go too far to say that Bentley rejected the Ignatian
Epistles--he only rejected them in the form in which they were put
forth by Ussher and Vossius, and not in the form of the Syriac.
So did Porson, as Bishop Kaye informed me--but he never denied that
Ignatius had written letters--indeed, the very forgeries were a
proof of true patterns which were falsified.
A great many of the ablest scholars in Europe, who had refused to
accept the Greek letters, are convinced of the genuineness of the
Syriac. But time will open. Believe me, yours faithfully,
THE REV. DR. KILLEN.
Some time after this letter was written, ecclesiastical literature
sustained a severe loss in the death of its amiable and
accomplished author. Though Dr. Cureton here expressed himself
with due caution, his language is certainly not calculated to
reassure the advocates of the Ignatian Epistles. One of their most
learned editors in recent times--so far from speaking in a tone of
confidence respecting them--here admits that he attached to them
"no very great importance." Though he had spent twenty years
chiefly in their illustration, he acknowledges that he was
constantly endeavouring "to add some new light" for his guidance.
To him, therefore, the subject must have been still involved in
It is noteworthy that, in the preceding letter, he has not been
able to point out a solitary error in the statement of the claims
of these Epistles as presented in _The Ancient Church_. He
alleges, indeed, that the arguments employed are "based upon
presumptive evidence, negative evidence, and the evidence of
appropriateness;" he confesses that these proofs are "valuable;"
but, though he contends that they must all "tumble to the around
before one single fact," he has failed to produce the one single
fact required for their overthrow.
Dr. Cureton had obviously not been previously aware that Dr. Bentley,
the highest authority among British critics, had rejected the
Ignatian Epistles. Had he been cognisant of that fact when he
wrote the _Corpus Ignatianum_, he would have candidly announced it
to his readers. The manner in which he here attempts to dispose of
it is certainly not very satisfactory. He pleads that, though
Bentley condemned as spurious the letters edited by Ussher and
Vossius, he would not have pronounced the same decision on the
Syriac version recently discovered. Why not? This Syriac version
is an edition of _the same Epistles_ in an abbreviated form. If
Bentley denounced _the whole_ as a forgery, it seems to follow, by
logical inference, that he would have pronounced the same verdict
on the half or the third part. Dr. Cureton is mistaken when he
affirms in the preceding communication that his Syriac version has
rejected "all the passages" against which "the critics of the
Ignatian controversy" had protested. The very contrary has been
demonstrated in _The Ancient Church_. A large number of the
sentences which had provoked the most unsparing criticism are
retained in the Curetonian edition. It is right to add that
Archbishop Ussher more than "doubted" the Epistle to Polycarp.
He discarded it altogether. Without hesitation he set it aside as
spurious. Whilst he disliked its style, he felt that it wanted
other marks of genuineness. When writing _The Ancient Church_--now
nearly thirty years ago--I was disposed to think that the Ignatian
Epistles had been manufactured at Antioch; but more mature
consideration has led me to adopt the conclusion that they were
concocted at Rome. They bear a strong resemblance to several other
spurious works which appeared there; and the servile submission to
episcopal authority which they so strenuously inculcate was first
most offensively challenged by the chief pastor of the great
Western bishopric. These Epistles tended much to promote the
progress of ecclesiastical despotism.
Any one who studies the two chapters on the Ignatian Epistles in
_The Ancient Church_, must see that what is there urged against
them is something more than "presumptive evidence, negative
evidence, and the evidence of appropriateness." It is shown that
their anachronisms, historical blundering, and false doctrine
clearly convict them of forgery.
It has been deemed right to subjoin here a copy of the Ignatian
Epistle to the Romans, as some readers may not have it at hand for
consultation. Various translations of this Epistle have been
published. The following adheres pretty closely to that given by
the Bishop of Durham:--
"Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to her that has obtained mercy
through the might of the Most High Father, and of Jesus Christ His
only Son, to the Church which is beloved and enlightened through
the will of Him who willeth all things that are according to the
love of Jesus Christ our God, to her that has the presidency in
the country of the region of the Romans; being worthy of God,
worthy of honour, worthy of felicitation, worthy of praise, worthy
of success, worthy in purity, and having the presidency of love,
walking in the law of Christ, and bearing the Father's name, which
I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father,
to those that are united both according to the flesh and spirit to
every one of His commandments, being filled inseparably with the
grace of God, and filtered clear from every foreign stain;
abundance of happiness unblameably in Jesus Christ our God.
"1. Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing
your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I
requested, for I hope as a prisoner in Jesus Christ to salute you,
if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of
attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered,
if so be I shall attain unto the goal, that I may receive my
inheritance without hindrance. For I am afraid of your love, lest
it should be to me an injury; for it is easy for you to accomplish
what you please, but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if
ye spare me.
"2. For I would not have you to be men-pleasers, but to please
God, as ye do please Him. For neither shall I ever have such an
opportunity of attaining to God, nor can ye, if ye be silent, ever
be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if ye are silent
concerning me, I shall become God's; but if ye love my body, I
shall have my course again to run. Pray, then, do not seek to
confer any greater favour upon me than that I be poured out a
libation to God, while there is still an altar ready; that being
gathered together in love ye may sing praise to the Father through
Jesus Christ, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy
to be sent for from the east to the west. It is good to set from
the world to God, that I may rise again to Him.
"3. Ye have never envied any one. Ye have taught others, and my
desire is that those lessons shall hold good, which as teachers ye
enjoin. Only request in my behalf both inward and outward
strength, so that I may not only say it, but also desire it; that
I may not only be called a Christian, but really be found one. For
if I shall be found so, then can I also be called one, and be
faithful then, when I shall no longer appear to the world. Nothing
visible is good: for our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with
the Father, is all the more revealed. The work is not of
persuasiveness, but of greatness, whensoever it is hated by the
"4. I write to all the Churches, and I bid all men know that of my
own free will I die for God, unless ye should hinder me. I exhort
you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to
become food for the wild beasts, that through them I shall attain
to God. I am the wheat of God, and I am ground by the teeth of
wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather
entice the wild beasts that they may become my sepulchre, and may
leave no part of my body behind, so that I may not, when I am
fallen asleep, be burdensome to any one. Then shall I be truly a
disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see
my body. Supplicate the Lord for me, that through these
instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not enjoin you
as Peter and Paul did. They were apostles, I am a convict; they
were free, I am a slave to this very hour. But, when I suffer, I
shall be a freed-man of Jesus Christ, and shall rise free in Him.
Now I am learning in my bonds to put away every desire.
"5. From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts; by land and
sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a
company of soldiers, who only become worse when they are kindly
treated. Howbeit through their wrong-doings I am become more
completely a disciple, yet am I not hereby justified. May I have
joy of the beasts that have been prepared for me; and I pray that
I may find them prompt; nay, I will entice them that they may
devour me promptly, not as they have done to some, refusing to
touch them through fear. Yea, though of themselves they should not
be willing while I am ready, I myself will force them to it. Bear
with me, I know what is expedient for me. Now am I beginning to be
a disciple. May nought of things visible and things invisible envy
me, that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Come fire and cross, and
grapplings with wild beasts, cuttings and manglings, wrenching of
bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel
tortures of the devil to assail me, only be it mine to attain to
"6. The farthest bounds of the universe shall profit me nothing,
neither the kingdoms of this world. It is good for me to die for
Jesus Christ, rather than to reign over the farthest bounds of the
earth. I seek Him who died on our behalf, I desire Him who rose
again for our sake. My birth-pangs are at hand. Pardon me,
brethren, do not hinder me from living. Do not wish to keep me in
a state of death, while I desire to belong to God; do not give me
over to the world, neither allure me with material things. Suffer
me to obtain pure light; when I have gone thither, then shall I be
a man. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If
any man has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire,
and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.
"7. The prince of this world would fain seize me, and corrupt my
disposition towards God. Let not any of you, therefore, that are
near abet him. Rather be ye on my side, that is, on God's side.
Do not speak of Jesus Christ and set your desires on the world.
Let not envy dwell among you. Even though I myself, when I am with
you, should beseech you, obey me not, but rather give credit to
those things which I now write. My earthly passion has been
crucified, and there is no fire of material longing in me; but
there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me
inwardly, 'Come to the Father.' I have no delight in the food of
corruption, or in the delights of this life. I desire the bread of
God, which is the flesh of Christ, who was of the seed of David;
and for a draught I desire His blood, which is love incorruptible.
"8. I desire no longer to live after the manner of men; and this
shall be, if ye desire it. Be ye willing, then, that ye also may
be desired. In a brief letter I beseech you, do ye give credit to
me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, so that ye shall
know that I speak the truth--Jesus Christ the unerring mouth by
which the Father has spoken truly. Pray for me that I may attain
the object of my desire. I write not unto you after the flesh, but
after the mind of God. If I shall suffer, it was your desire; but
if I am rejected, ye have hated me.
"9. Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, which
has God for its shepherd in my stead. Jesus Christ alone shall be
its bishop, He and your love; but for myself, I am ashamed to be
called one of them; for neither am I worthy, being the very last
of them and an untimely birth; but I have found mercy that I
should be some one, if so I shall attain unto God. My spirit
salutes you, and the love of the Churches which received me in the
name of Jesus Christ, not as a mere wayfarer; for even those
Churches which did not lie on my route after the flesh, went
before me from city to city.
"10. Now I write these things to you from Smyrna, by the hand of
the Ephesians, who are worthy of all felicitation. And Crocus
also, a name very dear to me, is with me, with many others
"11. As touching those who went before me from Syria to Rome, to
the glory of God, I believe that ye have received instructions;
whom also apprize that I am near, for they all are worthy of God
and of you, and it becomes you to refresh them in all things.
These things I write to you on the 9th before the Kalends of
September. Fare-ye-well unto the end in the patient waiting for
This letter is a strange mixture of silly babblement, mysticism,
and fanaticism; but throughout it wants the true ring of an honest
correspondence. Why does the writer describe himself as the
_Bishop of Syria_, and why does he never once mention _Antioch_
from beginning to end? When an apostle was imprisoned, his
brethren prayed for his release (Acts xii. 5); but this Ignatius
forbade the Christians at Rome to make any attempt to save him
from martyrdom. Paul taught that he might give his body to be
burned, and yet after all be a reprobate (1 Cor. xiii. 3); but
this Ignatius indicates that all would be well with him, if he had
the good fortune to be eaten by the lions. His letter is pervaded,
not by the enlightened and cheerful piety of the New Testament,
but by the gloomy and repulsive spirit of Montanism. Bishop
Lightfoot tells us that it had "a wider popularity than the other
letters of Ignatius" (vol. ii, sec. i. p. 186). It was accommodated
to the taste of an age of deteriorated Christianity. Polycarp
would have sternly condemned its extravagance. But, in the early
part of the third century, the tone of public sentiment in the
Christian Church was greatly changed, and the writings of
Tertullian contributed much to give encouragement to such
productions as the Ignatian Epistles. Tertullian, however, in his
numerous writings, never once names Ignatius. It would appear that
he had never heard of these letters.
[2:1] Carwithen, _Hist. Ch. of England_, i. 554, 2nd ed.
[2:2] _Instit._ I. c. xiii. sec. 29. "There is," says Calvin,
"nothing more abominable than that trash which is in circulation
under the name of Ignatius."
[3:1] _The Apostolic Fathers_, Part II., S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp.
Revised texts, with Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, and
Translations. By J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D., Bishop of
Durham. London 1885.
[4:1] _Expositor_ for Dec. 1885, p. 401. London, Hodder & Stoughton.
[6:1] Vol. i. p. 316.
[6:2] Pref. I. vii.
[6:3] Vol. i. p. 107.
[7:1] Monk's _Life of Bentley_, ii. p. 44, ed. 1833. Monk adds,
that the affair was "the talk of the Long Vacation"--a clear proof
that the truth of the statement was indisputable.
[7:2] See my _Old Catholic Church_, p. 398, Edinburgh 1871; and
Appendix No. 1 to this Reply.
[7:3] Vol. i. p. 321, note.
[8:1] Vol. i. p. 316.
[8:2] Vol. i. p. 321.
[8:3] Vol. i. p. 320.
[9:1] See _Expositor_ for Dec. 1885, p. 403.
[9:2] Vol. ii. sec. i. p. 436.
[10:1] Vol. i. p.345.
[11:1] Vol. i. p. 331.
[11:2] See Lightfoot, vol. i. p. 131.
[12:1] See _Expositor_ for Dec. 1885, p. 404.
[13:1] Page v.
[15:1] Preface, p. vi.
[16:1] _Contra Haer._ iii. 3. 4.
[16:2] Vol. ii. sec. i. p. 446.
[17:1] Vol. i. p. 380. He says elsewhere "almost simultaneously,"
vol. i. p. 382.
[17:2] sec. 4, 5, 6. It is worthy of remark that Eusebius notices the
letter of Polycarp, not along with the Ignatian Epistles, but in
connection with the beginning of the reign of Marcus Aurelius. See
Eusebius, Book IV. chap. xiv.
[18:1] The words "for kings" of this part of the letter are extant
only in a Latin version. The passage in the Latin stands thus:
"Orate etiam, pro regibus et potestatibus et principibus."
[18:2] As the great monarch of Assyria surveyed the potentates
under his dominion, he was tempted to exclaim vaingloriously, "Are
not my princes all of them kings?" Isa. x. 8, Revised Version. The
emperor of Rome might have uttered the same proud boast.
[18:3] Vol. i. p. 576.
[18:4] _Ibid._ In support of this view Dr. Lightfoot appeals to
1 Tim ii. 2, where the apostle says that "supplications, prayers,
intercessions, and giving of thanks," as circumstances required,
should be made "for kings and all that are in authority." Paul is
here giving general directions suited to all time; but Polycarp is
addressing himself to the Philippians, and furnishing them with
instructions adapted to their existing condition.
[19:1] Vol. i. p. 407
[21:1] sec. 13. This part of the letter is only extant in the Latin
version. Its words are: "De ipso Ignatio, et _de his qui cum eo
sunt_, quod certius agnoveritis, significate." Dr. Lightfoot
admits that "it was made from an older form of the Greek" than any
of the existing Greek MSS., vol. ii. sec. ii. p. 201. He vainly tries
to prove that the words "qui cum eo sunt" must be a mistranslation.
They do not suit his theory. They imply that Ignatius and his
party were still living when the letter was written.
[21:3] See Dr. Lightfoot, vol. i. p. 23, and Zahn, _Ignatius von
Antiochien_, pp. 28 and 401.
[21:4] This road was several hundred miles in length.
[22:2] Vol. ii. sec. ii. p. 921, note.
[23:1] "Si quis vadit ad Syriam, deferat literas meas, quas fecero
ad vos." This is the reading of the old Latin version, which, as
Dr. Lightfoot tells us, "is sometimes useful for correcting the
text of the extant Greek MSS." Vol. ii. sec. ii. p. 901. Even some
of the Greek MSS. read, not [Greek: par humon] but [Greek: par haemon].
This reading is found in some copies of Eusebius and in Nicephorus,
and is followed by Rufinus. See Jacobson, _Pat. Apost._ ii. 488, note.
[24:1] The apostles and elders assembled at Jerusalem directed
their letters to the brethren "in _Antioch_, and Syria, and
Cilicia," Acts xv. 23; but, according to Dr. Lightfoot and his
supporters, Ignatius ignores his own city, though one of the
greatest in the empire, and remembers only the province to which
[25:1] Epistle to Polycarp, sec. 7.
[26:1] The words may be literally translated, "If any one is going
to Syria, he might convey to you my letters which I shall have
finished," that is, which I have ready. Friendly letters were then
generally much longer than in our day, as the opportunities of
transmitting them were few; and much longer time was occupied in
[27:1] [Greek: Psuria]--see the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_, by J. B.
Friedreich, p. 64. Erlangen 1856. It is mentioned by Homer in the
_Odyssey_, lib. iii. 171. See also Dunbar's _Greek Lexicon_, art.
[27:2] Mr. Gladstone has remarked that "the [Greek: Suriae
naesos], or Syros, has the same bearing in respect to Delos as
[Greek: Psuriae] in respect to Chios."--_Studies on Homer_, vol.
iii. 333, note.
[28:1] See Homer, _Odyssey_, xv. 402. See the note in the
_Odyssey_, by F. H. Rothe, pp. 233-34. Leipsic 1834. In the Latin
version of Strabo we have these words: "Videtur sub-Syriae nomine
mentionem facere Homerus his quidem verbis:--
'Ortygiam supra Syria est quaedam insula.'"
Strabo, _Rer. Geog._ lib. x. p. 711. Oxford 1807. The passage in
Homer is thus rendered by Chapman:--
"There is an isle above Ortygia,
If thou hast heard, they call it Syria."
The present inhabitants of this island call themselves [Greek: Surianoi]
or Syrians. See Smith's _Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography_,
[28:2] Bingham's _Origines Ecclesiasticae_, iii. 196. London 1840.
[28:3] Smith's _Assyrian Discoveries_, p. 22. London 1875.
[29:1] Smith, p. 21.
[29:2] Dr. Lightfoot imagines that he has discovered a wonderful
confirmation of his views in the word "likewise" which here occurs
(vol. i. p. 574). It is not easy to see the force of his argument;
but, with the explanations given in the text, the word has
peculiar significance. It implies that whilst the messenger was to
carry the letters from Smyrna to Syria, he was _also_, or
likewise, to bring back Smyrna the letters sent to Syria from
[30:1] Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, sec. 11.
[30:2] Zahn speaks of the mission to Antioch as "senseless, even
considering the time of the year."--_Ignatius von Antiochien_, p. 287.
[34:1] I was myself so much impressed at one time by Dr. Lightfoot's
reasoning in the _Contemporary Review_ (May 1875), that I actually
adopted his reckoning as to the date of Polycarp's death in a late
edition of my _Ancient Church_; but, on more mature consideration,
I have found it to be quite untenable.
[34:2] Vol. i. p. 629.
[34:3] Vol. i. pp. 629, 630.
[35:1] Vol. i. p. 630.
[37:1] Lightfoot, vol. i. p. 632.
[37:3] Vol. i. p. 148.
[37:4] _Vita Malchi_, Opera iv. pp. 90, 91. Paris 1706.
[38:1] Doellinger's _Hippolytus and Callistus_, by Plummer, pp. 79, 80.
[38:2] Vol. i. p. 633.
[39:1] Dr. Lightfoot is not supported in his chronology by his favourite
Zahn, who places the date of the martyrdom of Polycarp after the death
of Peregrinus, in A.D. 165.--_Ignatius von Antiochien_, p. 517.
[40:1] Vol. i. p. 451.
[40:2] Vol. i. p. 635.
[41:1] Vol. i. p. 640.
[41:2] Vol. i. pp. 639, 640.
[42:1] Vol. i. 610.
[42:2] _Ibid._ Even the manuscript authorities of this postscript
differ as to the name. According to some, the prenomen was
_Statius_; according to others, _Stratius_; according to another,
_Tatius_; whilst in another the name is omitted altogether. See
Lightfoot, vol. i. p. 656, note; vol. ii. sec. ii. p. 984; see
also Jacobson, ii. p. 593.
[43:1] It is probable that the postscript was written many years
after the event; and, under these circumstances, the writer may
have mistaken the name of the proconsul at the time. Eusebius
seems to have known nothing of this postscript, and it is now
impossible to tell when it was added.
[43:2] Ummidius Quadratus, in A.D. 167, was associated with the
Emperor Lucius Verus in the consulship; and it would appear that
about A.D. 169--on the ground of exceptional ability and
influence--he was appointed to the proconsulship of Asia.
[43:3] Vol. i. pp. 460, 463. In another case we find the proconsul
_Sergius_ Paulus styled incorrectly _Servillius_ Paullus, vol. i. p. 494.
See also i. p. 508.
[44:1] It is stated in this same postscript, that "Philip of Tralles
was high priest," or Asiarch, at the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp.
From this fact Dr. Lightfoot has endeavoured to derive support for
his chronology. His argument is, however, quite inconclusive. The
dignity of Asiarch could be enjoyed only by the very rich, as none
others could sustain the expense of it; and the same individual
might hold it for years together, as well as again and again.
The Philip of whom Dr. Lightfoot speaks, had a son of the same
name, who may also have been high priest or Asiarch. See Lightfoot,
vol. i. pp. 612, 613, 615, 616.
[44:2] Euseb. iv.
[45:1] Vol. i. p. 443.
[45:2] Vol. i. p. 343.
[45:3] Vol. i. pp. 443-44.
[46:1] Vol. i. p. 510.
[46:2] sec. 2.
[46:3] See Neander, i. p. 147. Edinburgh 1847.
[46:4] Neander, i. p. 146.
[47:1] Antoninus Pius became emperor in A.D. 138.--Lightfoot, i. p. 703.
Hadrian died on the 10th of July of that year.--_Ibid._
[47:2] Book iv. 10.
[47:3] Book iv. 11. Dr. Lightfoot states that Eusebius had lists
of Roman and Alexandrian bishops, "giving the lengths of their
respective terms of office," vol. ii. sec. i. p. 451. It is said
that Hippolytus was the first who ever made a chronological list
of the Bishops of Rome.--Doellinger's _Hippolytus and Callistus_,
[50:1] sec. 8, 9.
[50:2] Vol. i. p. 703.
[50:3] Vol. i. p. 650.
[51:1] Vol. i. p. 273.
[53:1] _Contra Haer._ lib. v. c. 28. sec. 4.
[54:1] Dr. Lightfoot seems to have been in a condition of strange
forgetfulness when he asks, "Why does not Irenaeus quote Polycarp's
Epistle?"--vol. i. p. 328. The simple answer is that he mentions
the Epistle, and quotes Polycarp by name as a witness against the
heretics. _Contra Haer._ book iii. c. 3. sec. 4.
[55:1] Eusebius, v. c. i. The writer here mentions a number of
individuals by name, who were at this time "led into the amphitheatre
to the wild beasts."
[55:2] Professor Harnack says: "If we do not retain the Epistle of
Polycarp, then we must allow that _the external evidence on behalf
of the Ignatian Epistles is exceedingly weak, and hence is highly
favourable to the suspicion that they are spurious."--Expositor_
for Jan. 1886, p. 11. We have seen, however, that the Epistle of
Polycarp furnishes no evidence in their favour. See Chap. II.
[56:1] Vol. i. p. 578.
[57:1] Vol. i. p. 579.
[57:2] Vol. i. p. 580.
[57:3] Vol. i. p. 39.
[57:4] Vol. i. p. 583.
[57:5] To the Trallians, sec. 10.
[58:1] To the Romans, sec. 5.
[58:2] To the Trallians, sec. 4.
[58:3] To the Smyrnaeans, sec. 4.
[58:4] To the Romans, sec. 4.
[58:5] Letter of the Smyrnaeans relating to the death of Polycarp, sec. 4.
[58:6] To the Smyrnaeans, sec. 9.
[58:7] Polycarp to the Philippians, Section sec. 1, 5, 10.
[58:8] sec. 4, 6.
[59:1] To the Philad. sec. 3. To the Smyrnaeans, sec. 9.
To Polycarp, sec. 6.
[59:2] _The Ancient Church_, Period II. sec. ii. chap. ii., iii.
[59:3] _Epistle to the Philippians_, pp. 181-269.
[60:1] Vol. i. p. 377.
[60:2] 1 Tim. i. 3, iii. 5.
[61:1] Acts xx. 28, 31.
[61:2] 1 Tim. iv. 14.
[62:1] _Comment. in Titum_.
[62:2] Gal. ii. 9.
[63:1] _Philippians._ Essay, pp. 216, 218.
[63:2] Dr. Lightfoot, as we have seen, here completely mistakes
the date of the Epistle of Polycarp.
[63:3] _Philippians_, p. 226.
[63:4] _Ibid._ p. 227.
[63:5] _Ibid._ p. 226.
[64:1] See my _Ancient Church_, 4th edition, pp. 470-71. New York 1883.
[64:2] Vol. i. p. 377.
[64:3] It is quite clear that the bishops of whom Irenaeus speaks
were not a distinct order from presbyters. Thus he says, "It is
incumbent to obey the _presbyters_ who are in the Church, those
who possess the succession from the apostles, and who together
with the _succession of the episcopate_ have received the certain
gift of truth." ... "It behoves us ... to adhere to those who ...
hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with _the
order of the presbytery_, display sound speech and blameless
conduct."--_Contra Haer._ lib. iv. c. 26, sec. 2, 4.
[65:1] _Irenicum_, part ii. chap. 7.
[65:2] _Contra Haer._ iii. 3, 4.
[65:3] "It is," says he, "at all events _not likely_," vol. i. p. 425.
[66:1] 1 Tim. i. 18.
[66:2] If he was eighty-six years of age at the time of his martyrdom
in A.D. 169, he was born A.D. 83.
[67:1] Even Eusebius has given some countenance to this practice.
See his _Evangelical Preparation_, xii. c. 31.
[68:1] Doellinger's _Hippolytus and Callistus_, p. 113.
[69:1] sec. 9. See this letter in Appendix II.
[70:1] Vol. i. p. 383. It is worthy of note that, in this Epistle
to the Romans, Antioch is not named. Ignatius speaks of himself as
"the bishop from Syria," sec. 2. He thus seeks to identify himself
with the Ignatius mentioned in the Epistle of Polycarp, who speaks
of sending letters to Syria.
[71:1] Vol. ii. sec. i. p. 186.
[72:1] Lightfoot, vol. ii. sec. i. pp. 435, 445.
[72:2] Vol. i. p. 46.
[73:1] Euseb. v. c. 24.
[74:1] Eph. sec. 6; Magn. sec. 6.
[74:2] Rom. sec. 4.
[74:3] Eph. sec. 12; Rom. sec. 4; Trallians, sec. 3.
[74:4] Eph. sec. 9.
[75:1] Polycarp, sec. 6.
[75:2] Smyrnaeans, sec. 5; Philad. sec. 6.
[75:3] _Philosophumena_, Book IX.
[75:4] Eph. sec. 1.
[75:5] Rom. sec. 6.
[76:1] Vol. i. p. 329.
[76:2] Philippians, p. 236.
[77:1] Cyprian could not sympathize with this Ignatius in his
passion for martyrdom. The Bishop of Carthage incurred some odium
by retiring to a place of safety in a time of persecution.
[77:2] Philippians, Essay 237.
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