Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book III/Chapter 36
Chapter XXXVI.—Ignatius and His Epistles.
1. At that time Polycarp, a disciple of the apostles, was a man of eminence in Asia, having been entrusted with the episcopate of the church of Smyrna by those who had seen and heard the Lord.
2. And at the same time Papias, bishop of the parish of Hierapolis, became well known, as did also Ignatius, who was chosen bishop of Antioch, second in succession to Peter, and whose fame is still celebrated by a great many.
3. Report says that he was sent from Syria to Rome, and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ.
4. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance, he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by oral homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the apostles. Moreover, he thought it necessary to attest that tradition in writing, and to give it a fixed form for the sake of greater security.
5. So when he came to Smyrna, where Polycarp was, he wrote an epistle to the church of Ephesus, in which he mentions Onesimus, its pastor; and another to the church of Magnesia, situated upon the Mæander, in which he makes mention again of a bishop Damas; and finally one to the church of Tralles, whose bishop, he states, was at that time Polybius.
6. In addition to these he wrote also to the church of Rome, entreating them not to secure his release from martyrdom, and thus rob him of his earnest hope. In confirmation of what has been said it is proper to quote briefly from this epistle.
7. He writes as follows: “From Syria even unto Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and by sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards that is, a company of soldiers who only become worse when they are well treated. In the midst of their wrongdoings, however, I am more fully learning discipleship, but I am not thereby justified.
8. May I have joy of the beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray that I may find them ready; I will even coax them to devour me quickly that they may not treat me as they have some whom they have refused to touch through fear. And if they are unwilling, I will compel them. Forgive me.
9. I know what is expedient for me. Now do I begin to be a disciple. May naught of things visible and things invisible envy me; that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Let fire and cross and attacks of wild beasts, let wrenching of bones, cutting of limbs, crushing of the whole body, tortures of the devil,—let all these come upon me if only I may attain unto Jesus Christ.”
10. These things he wrote from the above-mentioned city to the churches referred to. And when he had left Smyrna he wrote again from Troas to the Philadelphians and to the church of Smyrna; and particularly to Polycarp, who presided over the latter church. And since he knew him well as an apostolic man, he commended to him, like a true and good shepherd, the flock at Antioch, and besought him to care diligently for it.
11. And the same man, writing to the Smyrnæans, used the following words concerning Christ, taken I know not whence: “But I know and believe that he was in the flesh after the resurrection. And when he came to Peter and his companions he said to them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit. And immediately they touched him and believed.”
12. Irenæus also knew of his martyrdom and mentions his epistles in the following words: “As one of our people said, when he was condemned to the beasts on account of his testimony unto God, I am God’s wheat, and by the teeth of wild beasts am I ground, that I may be found pure bread.”
13. Polycarp also mentions these letters in the epistle to the Philippians which is ascribed to him. His words are as follows: “I exhort all of you, therefore, to be obedient and to practice all patience such as ye saw with your own eyes not only in the blessed Ignatius and Rufus and Zosimus, but also in others from among yourselves as well as in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles; being persuaded that all these ran not in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are gone to their rightful place beside the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not the present world, but him that died for our sakes and was raised by God for us.”
14. And afterwards he adds: “You have written to me, both you and Ignatius, that if any one go to Syria he may carry with him the letters from you. And this I will do if I have a suitable opportunity, either I myself or one whom I send to be an ambassador for you also.
15. The epistles of Ignatius which were sent to us by him and the others which we had with us we sent to you as you gave charge. They are appended to this epistle, and from them you will be able to derive great advantage. For they comprise faith and patience, and every kind of edification that pertaineth to our Lord.” So much concerning Ignatius. But he was succeeded by Heros in the episcopate of the church of Antioch.
- On Polycarp, see Bk. IV. chap. 14, note 5.
- Of the life of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, we know very little. He is mentioned by Irenæus, Adv. Hær. V. 33. 3 and 4, who informs us that he was a companion of Polycarp and a hearer of the apostle John. The latter statement is in all probability incorrect (see chap. 39. note 4): but there is no reason to question the truth of the former. Papias’ dates we cannot ascertain with any great degree of accuracy. A notice in the Chron. Paschale, which makes him a martyr and connects his death with that of Polycarp, assigning both to the year 164 a.d. has been shown by Lightfoot (Contemp. Review, 1875, II. p. 381) to rest upon a confusion of names, and to be, therefore, entirely untrustworthy. We learn, however, from chap. 39, below, that Papias was acquainted with personal followers of the Lord (e.g. with Aristion and the “presbyter John”), and also with the daughters of Philip. He must, therefore, have reached years of maturity before the end of the first century. On the other hand, the five books of his Expositions cannot have been written very long before the middle of the second century, for some of the extant fragments seem to show traces of the existence of Gnosticism in a somewhat advanced form at the time he wrote. With these data we shall not be far wrong in saying that he was born in the neighborhood of 70 a.d., and died before the middle of the second century. He was a pronounced chiliast (see chap. 39, note 19), and according to Eusebius, a man of limited understanding (see chap. 39, note 20); but the claim of the Tübingen school that he was an Ebionite is not supported by extant evidence (see Lightfoot, ibid. p. 384). On the writings of Papias, see below, chap. 39, note 1.
- Four mss. insert at this point the words ἀνὴρ τὰ π€ντα ὅτι μ€λιστα λογιώτατος καὶ τῆς γραφῆς εἰδήμων (“a man of the greatest learning in all lines and well versed in the Scriptures”), which are accepted by Heinichen, Closs, and Crusè. The large majority of the best mss., however, supported by Rufinus, and followed by Valesius (in his notes), Stroth, Laemmer, Burton, and the German translator, Stigloher, omit the words, which are undoubtedly to be regarded as an interpolation, intended perhaps to offset the derogatory words used by Eusebius in respect to Papias in chap. 39, §13. In discussing the genuineness of these words, critics (among them Heinichen) have concerned themselves too much with the question whether the opinion of Papias expressed here contradicts that expressed in chap. 39, and therefore, whether Eusebius can have written these words. Even if it be possible to reconcile the two passages and to show that Papias may have been a learned man, while at the same time he was of “limited judgment,” as Eusebius informs us, the fact nevertheless remains that the weight of ms. authority is heavily against the genuineness of the words, and that it is much easier to understand the interpolation than the omission of such an expression in praise of one of the apostolic Fathers, especially when the lack of any commendation here and in chap. 39 must be unpleasantly noticeable.
- Eusebius follows what was undoubtedly the oldest tradition in making Evodius the first bishop of Antioch, and Ignatius the second (see above, chap. 22, note 2). Granting the genuineness of the shorter Greek recension of the Ignatian epistles (to be mentioned below), the fact that Ignatius was bishop of the church of Antioch in Syria is established by Ep. ad Rom. 9, compared with ad Smyr. 11 and ad Polycarp. 7. If the genuineness of the epistles be denied, these passages seem to prove at least his connection with the church of Antioch and his influential position in it, for otherwise the forgery of the epistles under his name would be inconceivable. There are few more prominent figures in early Church history than Ignatius, and yet there are few about whom we have less unquestioned knowledge. He is known in history pre-eminently as a martyr. The greater part of his life is buried in complete obscurity. It is only as a man condemned to death for his profession of Christianity that he comes out into the light, and it is with him in this character and with the martyrdom which followed that tradition has busied itself. There are extant various Acts of the Martyrdom of St. Ignatius which contain detailed accounts of his death, but these belong to the fourth and subsequent centuries, are quite contradictory in their statements, and have been conclusively proved to be utterly unreliable and to furnish no trustworthy information on the subject in hand. From writers before Eusebius we have but four notices of Ignatius (Polycarp’s Ep. ad Phil. 9, 13; Irenæus’ Adv. Hær. V. 18. 3, quoted below; Origen, Prol. in Cant., and Hom. VI. in Luc.). These furnish us with very little information. If the notice in Polycarp’s epistle be genuine (and though it has been widely attacked, there is no good reason to doubt it), it furnishes us with our earliest testimony to the martyrdom of a certain Ignatius and to the existence of epistles written by him. Irenæus does not name Ignatius, but he testifies to the existence of the Epistle to the Romans which bears his name, and to the martyrdom of the author of that epistle. Origen informs us that Ignatius, the author of certain epistles, was second bishop of the church of Antioch and suffered martyrdom at Rome. Eusebius, in the present chapter, is the first one to give us an extended account of Ignatius, and his account contains no information beyond what he might have drawn from the Ignatian epistles themselves as they lay before him, except the statements, already made by Origen, that Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch and suffered martyrdom at Rome. The former statement must have rested on a tradition, at least in part, independent of the epistles (for they imply only the fact of his Antiochian episcopacy, without specifying the time); the latter might have arisen from the epistles themselves (in which it is clearly stated that the writer is on his way to Rome to suffer martyrdom), for of course it would be natural to assume that his expectation was realized. The connection in which Eusebius records the martyrdom implies that he believed that it took place in the reign of Trajan, and in his Chronicle he gives precise dates for the beginning of his episcopate (the 212th Olympiad, i.e. 69–72 a.d.) and for his martyrdom (the tenth year of Trajan, i.e. 107 a.d.). Subsequent notices of Ignatius are either quite worthless or are based solely upon the epistles themselves or upon the statements of Eusebius. The information, independent of the epistles, which has reached us from the time of Eusebius or earlier, consequently narrows itself down to the report that Ignatius was second bishop of Antioch, and that he was bishop from about 70 to 107 a.d. The former date may be regarded as entirely unreliable. Even were it granted that there could have been a bishop at the head of the Antiochian church at so early a date (and there is no warrant for such a supposition), it would nevertheless be impossible to place any reliance upon the date given by Eusebius, as it is impossible to place any reliance upon the dates given for the so-called bishops of other cities during the first century (see Bk. IV. chap. 1, note 1). But the date of Ignatius’ martyrdom given by Eusebius seems at first sight to rest upon a more reliable tradition, and has been accepted by many scholars as correct. Its accuracy, however, has been impugned, especially by Zahn and Lightfoot, who leave the date of Ignatius’ death uncertain, claiming simply that he died under Trajan; and by Harnack, who puts his death into the reign of Hadrian. We shall refer to this again further on. Meanwhile, since the information which we have of Ignatius, independent of the Ignatian epistles, is so small in amount, we are obliged to turn to those epistles for our chief knowledge of his life and character. But at this point a difficulty confronts us. There are extant three different recensions of epistles ascribed to Ignatius. Are any of them genuine, and if so, which? The first, or longer Greek recension, as it is called, consists of fifteen epistles, which were first published in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Of these fifteen, eight are clearly spurious, and seven are at least largely interpolated. The genuineness of the former and the integrity of the latter now find no defenders among scholars. The second, or shorter Greek recension, contains seven of the fifteen epistles of the longer recension, in a much shorter form. Their titles are the same that are given by Eusebius in this chapter. They were first discovered and published in the seventeenth century. The third, or Syriac recension, contains three of these seven epistles (to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans), in a still shorter form, and was discovered in the present century. Since its discovery, opinions have been divided between it and the shorter Greek recension; but the defense of the genuineness of the latter by Zahn and Lightfoot may be regarded as finally settling the matter, and establishing the originality of the shorter Greek recension as over against that represented by the Syriac version. The former, therefore, alone comes into consideration in discussing the genuineness of the Ignatian epistles. Their genuineness is still stoutly denied by some; but the evidence in their favor, external and internal, is too strong to be set aside; and since the appearance of Lightfoot’s great work, candid scholars almost unanimously admit that the question is settled, and their genuineness triumphantly established. The great difficulties which have stood in the way of the acceptance of the epistles are, first and chiefly, the highly developed form of church government which they reveal; and secondly, the attacks upon heresy contained in them. Both of these characteristics seem to necessitate a date later than the reign of Trajan, the traditional time of Ignatius’ martyrdom. Harnack regards these two difficulties as very serious, if not absolutely fatal to the supposition that the epistles were written during the reign of Trajan; but in a very keen tract, entitled Die Zeit des Ignatius (Leipzig, 1878), he has endeavored to show that the common tradition that Ignatius suffered martyrdom under Trajan is worthless, and he therefore brings the martyrdom down into the reign of Hadrian, and thus does away with most of the internal difficulties which beset the acceptance of the epistles. Whether or not Harnack’s explanation of Eusebius’ chronology of the Antiochian bishops be accepted as correct (and the number of its adherents is not great), he has, at least, shown that the tradition that Ignatius suffered martyrdom under Trajan is not as strong as it has been commonly supposed to be, and that it is possible to question seriously its reliability. Lightfoot, who discusses Harnack’s theory at considerable length (II. p. 450–469), rejects it, and maintains that Ignatius died sometime during the reign of Trajan, though, with Zahn and Harnack, he gives up the traditional date of 107 a.d., which is found in the Chronicle of Eusebius, and has been very commonly accepted as reliable. Lightfoot, however, remarks that the genuineness of the epistles is much more certain than the chronology of Ignatius, and that, therefore, if it is a question between the rejection of the epistles and the relegation of Ignatius’ death to the reign of Hadrian (which he, however, denies), the latter alternative must be chosen without hesitation. A final decision upon this knotty point has not yet been, and perhaps never will be, reached; but Harnack’s theory that the epistles were written during the reign of Hadrian deserves even more careful consideration than it has yet received. Granting the genuineness of the Ignatian epistles, we are still in possession of no great amount of information in regard to his life. We know from them only that he was bishop of the church of Antioch in Syria, and had been condemned to martyrdom, and that he was, at the time of their composition, on his way to Rome to suffer death in the arena. His character and opinions, however, are very clearly exhibited in his writings. To quote from Schaff, “Ignatius stands out in history as the ideal of a Catholic martyr, and as the earliest advocate of the hierarchical principle in both its good and its evil points. As a writer, he is remarkable for originality, freshness, and force of ideas, and for terse, sparkling, and sententious style; but in apostolic simplicity and soundness, he is inferior to Clement and Polycarp, and presents a stronger contrast to the epistles of the New Testament. Clement shows the calmness, dignity, and governmental wisdom of the Roman character. Ignatius glows with the fire and impetuosity of the Greek and Syrian temper which carries him beyond the bounds of sobriety. He was a very uncommon man, and made a powerful impression upon his age. He is the incarnation, as it were, of the three closely connected ideas: the glory of martyrdom, the omnipotence of episcopacy, and the hatred of heresy and schism. Hierarchical pride and humility, Christian charity and churchly exclusiveness, are typically represented in Ignatius.” The literature on Ignatius and the Ignatian controversy is very extensive. The principal editions to be consulted are Cureton’s The Ancient Syriac Version of the Epistles of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp, the Ephesians, and the Romans, with English translation and notes (the editio princeps of the Syriac version), London and Berlin, 1845; Zahn’s Ignatii et Polycarpi Epistulæ, Martyria fragmenta, Lips. 1876 (Patrum Apostolicorum Opera, ed. Gebhardt, Harnack, and Zahn, Vol. II); Bishop Lightfoot’s St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp (The Apostolic Fathers, Part II.), London, 1885. This edition (in two volumes) is the most complete and exhaustive edition of Ignatius’ epistles which has yet appeared, and contains a very full and able discussion of all questions connected with Ignatius and his writings. It contains the text of the longer Greek recension and of the Syriac version, in addition to that of the seven genuine epistles, and practically supersedes all earlier editions. An English translation of all the epistles of Ignatius (Syriac and Greek, in both recensions) is given in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Am. ed.), Vol. I. pp. 45–126. The principal discussions which it is necessary to refer to here are those of Lightfoot in his edition of the Ignatian epistles just referred to; Zahn’s Ignatius von Antiochien, Gotha, 1873 (very full and able); Harnack’s Die Zeit des Ignatius, Leipzig, 1878; and the reviews of Lightfoot’s edition contributed by Harnack to the Expositor, December, 1885, January and March, 1886. For a more extended list of works on the subject, and for a brief review of the whole matter, see Schaff’s Church History, Vol. II. p. 651–664.
- That Ignatius was on his way from Syria to Rome, under condemnation for his testimony to Christ, and that he was expecting to be cast to the wild beasts upon reaching Rome, appears from many passages of the epistles themselves. Whether the tradition, as Eusebius calls it, that he actually did suffer martyrdom at Rome was independent of the epistles, or simply grew out of the statements made in them, we cannot tell. Whichever is the case, we may regard the tradition as reliable. That he suffered martyrdom somewhere is too well attested to be doubted for a moment; and there exists no tradition in favor of any other city as the place of his martyrdom, except a late one reported by John Malalas, which names Antioch as the place. This is accepted by Volkmar and by the author of Supernatural Religion, but its falsity has been conclusively shown by Zahn (see his edition of the Ignatian epistles, p. xii. 343, 381).
- The seven genuine epistles of Ignatius (all of which are mentioned by Eusebius in this chapter) fall into two groups, four having been written from one place and three from another. The first four—to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans—were written from Smyrna, while Ignatius was on his way to Rome, as we can learn from notices in the epistles themselves, and as is stated below by Eusebius, who probably took his information from the statements of the epistles, as we take ours. Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles lay to the south of Smyrna, on one of the great highways of Asia Minor. But Ignatius was taken by a road which lay further north, passing through Philadelphia and Sardis (see Lightfoot, I. 33 sq.). and thus did not visit the three cities to which he now sends epistles from Smyrna. The four epistles written from Smyrna contain no indication of the chronological order in which they were written, and whether Eusebius in his enumeration followed the manuscript of the epistles which he used (our present mss. give an entirely different order, which is not at all chronological and does not even keep the two groups distinct), or whether he exercised his own judgment, we do not know.
- Of this Onesimus, and of Damas and Polybius mentioned just below, we know nothing more.
- Ignatius, Ep. ad Rom. chap. 5.
- λεοπ€ρδοις. This is the earliest use of this word in any extant writing, and an argument has been drawn from this fact against the authenticity of the epistle. For a careful discussion of the matter, see Lightfoot’s edition, Vol. II. p. 212.
- Compare 1 Cor. iv. 4.
- Compare the instances of this mentioned by Eusebius in Bk. V. chap. I, §42, and in Bk. VIII. chap. 7.
- The translation of this sentence is Lightfoot’s, who prefers with Rufinus and the Syriac to read the optative ζηλώσαι instead of the infinitive ζηλῶσαι, which is found in most of the mss. and is given by Heinichen and the majority of the other editors. The sense seems to require, as Lightfoot asserts, the optative rather than the infinitive.
- That Troas was the place from which Ignatius wrote to the Philadelphians, to the Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp is clear from indications in the epistles themselves. The chronological order in which the three were written is uncertain. He had visited both churches upon his journey to Troas and had seen Polycarp in Smyrna.
- See Ep. ad Polycarp. chap. 7.
- Ep. ad Smyr. chap. 3. Jerome, quoting this passage from Ignatius in his de vir. ill. 16, refers it to the gospel which had lately been translated by him (according to de vir. ill. 3), viz.: the Gospel of the Nazarenes (or the Gospel according to the Hebrews). In his Comment. in Isaiam, Bk. XVIII. introd., Jerome quotes the same passage again, referring it to the same gospel (Evangelium quod Hebræorum lectitant Nazaræi). But in Origen de prin. præf. 8, the phrase is quoted as taken from the Teaching of Peter (“qui Petri doctrina apellatur”). Eusebius’ various references to the Gospel according to the Hebrews show that he was personally acquainted with it (see above, chap. 25, note 24), and knowing his great thoroughness in going through the books which he had access to, it is impossible to suppose that if this passage quoted from Ignatius were in the Gospel according to the Hebrews he should not have known it. We seem then to be driven to the conclusion that the passage did not originally stand in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, but was later incorporated either from the Teaching of Peter, in which Origen found it, or from some common source or oral tradition.
- δαιμόνιον ἀσώματον.
- Compare Luke xxiv. 39.
- Irenæus, Adv. Hær. V. 28. 4.
- On Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians, see Bk. IV. chap. 14, note 16.
- Polycarp, Ep. ad Phil. chap. 9.
- Of these men, Rufus and Zosimus, we know nothing.
- Polycarp, Ep. ad Phil. chap. 13. The genuineness of this chapter, which bears such strong testimony to the Ignatian epistles, has been questioned by some scholars, but without good grounds. See below, Bk. IV. chap. 14, note 16.
- According to Eusebius’ Chronicle Heros became bishop of Antioch in the tenth year of Trajan (107 a.d.), and was succeeded by Cornelius in the twelfth year of Hadrian (128 a.d.). In the History he is mentioned only once more (Bk. IV. chap. 20), and no dates are given. The dates found in the Chronicle are entirely unreliable (see on the dates of all the early Antiochian bishops, Harnack’s Zeit des Ignatius). Of Heros himself we have no trustworthy information. His name appears in the later martyrologies, and one of the spurious Ignatian epistles is addressed to him.