Monday, April 25, 2005

Reading the Apostolic Fathers

Reading through the Apostolic material of the first century, I noticed many interesting points in regards to what they had to say about the person of Christ and His relation to the God the Father. More interesting, however is the fact that each of these bodies of works, Letters of Ignatius, Letter and Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Letter to Diognetus, all emphasize the truth about Christ in a different and unique way. Although I will be concentrating on the Letters of Ignatius in these reflections, I would also like to say a few things about the other works first. As I just stated, each author attempts to convey the truth of Christ in a different way. Ignatius achieves this goal in the form of letters which include theological statements on the person of Christ (also found in the Letter of Polycarp), and yet the Martyrdom of Polycarp attempts to convey this same truth through the medium of a narrative, such as the gospels themselves. What is more evident is that this particular narrative is modeled after the passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is done intentionally in order to draw clear parallels between Christ and the imitator of Christ who is the good Christian. In this way, we may not get many long theological discourses or clear statements of faith, but what is effective are the actions and behaviour imitated by Polycarp in his quest to be Christ-like. The Letter to Diognetus is another example of using diverse methods to spread the Gospel. This work is in the form of a letter but differs from Ignatius in the sense that this is an apology; a work written for non-believers demonstrating the basic beliefs of the faith. This is also an invaluable resource since it is a clear, eloquent and systematic outlining of the faith. The writer assumes that the receiver knows nothing about Christianity and so makes his exposition clear and concise. It is also important to note that this letter is not only concerned with the identity of Christ but more importantly the identity of Christians within Greco-Roman society. In this way, the way in which we are to act, while living in the world, is effectively conveyed.

Now the Letters of Ignatius were quite fascinating to read and I believe they contain a very advanced Christology. It was clear to me that St. Ignatius was very well aware of the dual nature of Christ and thus emphasizes both the divine and human aspects of the Saviour. This is clear in all his epistles where he intentionally uses contradicting terminology in referring to Christ. Ignatius usually opens his epistles with a greeting in which he makes a distinction between Jesus Christ and God the Father. We see this in Ephesians Ch. 2 when he says, “may the Father of Jesus Christ refresh him.” And again in the introduction of Trallians he says, “by God the Father of Jesus Christ.” So we can see in these cases, as in many others, that there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. But in the same instance, Ignatius will say the complete opposite and unite the two. This is found numerous times such as in Ephesians Ch. 7; “There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is statements like these that laid the foundations for the Nicene faith and express clearly the two natures of Christ and the reality of His incarnation all at once. These two modes of explaining Christ’s natures, the distinction of the persons of the Trinity and the unity of Father and Son, are even brought together in the same sentences such as in the introduction of Romans when he says, “Father Most High and Jesus Christ His only Son, beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that exist, in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus Christ our God.” And so we see that even in the same sentence, Ignatius is able to emphasize both the divinity if Christ and the distinction between Him and God the Father. This is the most profound realization and teaching that I came across while reading these works and it is amazing to me that in such an early time, before Ecumenical Councils and local synods, St. Ignatius already has the full realization of the identity of Christ, the Incarnation and Trinitarian theology.

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