The Apostolic Fathers (2)

Last month we gave you a brief sketch of the period called the Apostolic Age. It is now our intention to consider more in detail one of the Apostolic Fathers who lived in that age.

There were, as we remarked last time, six of these Apostolic Fathers whose names we know. They are Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas, Hermas and Papias. Of these we have singled out Ignatius of Antioch for special consideration today. We do so not because we consider him to be the greatest defender of the truth in that age, but rather because he left a more abundant amount of writing than the others and from him we gain a clearer conception of the age. Clement of Rome rivals him for a prominent place in this ager but all the writings ascribed to him are disputed as to their genuineness. Many deny that they are really his work. Ignatius on the other hand has seven epistles which were written to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Smyrna, Philadelphia and one to Polycarp.

There are very few facts concerning his life that do not come to us by way of tradition. A few points can be gained from his writings, but most of the facts are derived from tradition handed down from generation to generation. Some of these facts are, to say the least, quite amusing and sound as though men wanted to “build him up” to be a big man. There is for example the tradition, that he is the child mentioned in Mark 9:35 whom Jesus took up in His arms when He rebuked His disciples and told them that they must become like this child. Others claim that he was not born until about the year 50 A.D. or some twenty years after Christ’s death and resurrection.

Another thing that tradition tells ns about him is that he was a disciple of the apostle John. His writings however show a much greater leaning to Paul. In his writings he makes frequent reference to Peter and Paul. In Romans 4:3 for example he writes, “do not enjoin you as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles, I am a convict,” An excerpt which shows a distinct leaning towards Paul reads thus, “But myself am ashamed to be called one of them (i.e. a Christian, J.A.H,); for neither am I worthy, being the very last and an untimely birth.” The language and thought here reminds one immediately of what Paul wrote in I Cor. 15:8, 9. Paul writes, “And last of all He was seen of me also, as one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

One can feel in reading these passages of Ignatius quoted above that it is not the inspired Word of God. Something tells us immediately that this is purely man’s work and word.

Ignatius is reported to have been the third bishop of Antioch. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a great liking to Ignatius, and the Catholic Encyclopedia devotes page after page to his writings and the tradition concerning his life. Since he taught that the bishop in the congregation had authority over the elders and deacons, it is to be understood that the Roman Catholic Church took a liking to him. We hasten to add again however that we are convinced by all that we read of his writings that he would not sanction the modem teachings of Rome of the infallibility of the Pope, saint worship, the corrupt indulgences, etc. He advocated this stand that the bishop or minister was the highest authority in the local congregation for the sake of unity and not as Rome does for hierarchical reasons. But liking him for this teaching—and we may add that Rome wants to like him for this teaching—they point to this tenet of his to show that the Roman Catholic Doctrine is to be traced back to the time of Peter and the Apostles, They also claim that Peter appointed him to be the third bishop of Antioch. In this way they defend their stand that Peter was the first Pope and that Jesus gave to Peter personally and solely the keys of the kingdom of heaven rather than to the church. Rome cannot prove that Peter appointed Ignatius to be bishop of Antioch and never has proven it.

In appraising a man like Ignatius, we must take into consideration the age in which he lived. Appearing as a leader in the church in the period after the Apostles who were inspired in their teaching, who were taught at Jesus’ feet, who received special revelations and were infallibly guided in their writings, we cannot expect any one of them or all of the Apostolic Fathers together to begin to measure up to the stature of any one of the Apostles.

Our allotted space is more than up but we like to make this final remark that, among other things, which he taught, we like him for his vigorous, defense of the human nature of Christ. He emphasized that He was truly born, tempted, persecuted, crucified, died and resurrected. Ignatius died a martyr’s death for His sake.