Tuesday, December 15, 2009

some (less) preliminary thoughts on Ignatius of Antioch

As I mentioned previously, I recently began reading the Apostolic Fathers. After reading Whitacre's text and translation of Ignatius' letter To The Romans (in A Patristic Greek Reader [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007]), I thought I noticed a shift in Ignatius (from the NT authors, the author of the Didache, and from Clement of Rome) regarding his use and thinking in terms of Hebrew biblical traditions.

Today, I returned to Michael Holmes's text of the Apostolic Fathers and read Holmes's introduction to Ignatius. He begins with a wonderful description of Ignatius, which I reproduce here:

Just as we become aware of a meteor only when, after traveling silently through space for untold millions of miles, it blazes briefly through the atmosphere before dying in a shower of fire, so it is with Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria. We meet him for the first time for just a few weeks not long before his death as a martyr in Rome early in the second century. But during those weeks he wrote, virtually as his "last will and testament," seven letters of extraordinary interest because of the unparalleled light they shed on the history of the church at that time, and because of what they reveal about the remarkable personality of the author. (Holmes 2007: 166)

Still only on the basis of my cursory reading of Ignatius' To The Romans, I find Holmes's description compelling. In that letter Ignatius is almost obsessive in his concern that he be able to "attain God" [τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπιτυχεῖν; tou theou epituchein (Rom. 1.2, passim)], which is synonymous for Ignatius with his successful (and gruesome!) martyrdom.

In his discussion of Ignatius' "Sources and Cultural Context," Holmes acknowledges that Ignatius "makes very little use of the Old Testament" (2007: 174) and mentions only three citations (Eph. 5.3; Magn. 12; Trall. 8.2) and three allusions (Eph. 15.1; Magn. 10.3; 13.1; see Holmes 2007: 174, n. 14). Perhaps not surprisingly, Ignatius is very influenced by Pauline tradition and perhaps broader streams of New Testament tradition (including John and/or Matthew). But given the shot-through-ness of those earlier texts with allusions to, connections with, and even citations of Hebrew biblical traditions, I'm intrigued by how Ignatius can be shaped by Paul but largely unserved by the resources Hebrew biblical traditions offered him for understanding and responding to his arrest and martyrdom.

Tomorrow (or later today, since I'm not very motivated to get to my work), I'll start reading Ignatius' To the Ephesians. Should be fun!

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