The second century church fathers have been notorious for their lack of specificity with regard to theological dogmas that would be guarded with great tenacity later in church history. Students of Patristics have expended a good deal of research and writing trying to determine what view a particular church father held in the area of Christology, Pneumatology, or some other important doctrine. The writings of Ignatius of Antioch have been subjected to similar scrutiny. His views regarding church order have been thoroughly studied. His understanding of the relationship between God and man as the ideal of the Christian life has been researched. The exact identities of his heretics have been investigated.1 His representation of being either of the minority opinion or majority opinion concerning a broad set of theological opinion has been questioned.2 Many more trails of thought have been examined with mixed results, but last in our list, but never the least in consideration has been the nature of his view on the Eucharist. The question is often asked whether or not Ignatius believed in the doctrine of real presence as it pertained to the elements of the Eucharist.
Ignatius is one of the most enigmatic characters of the early second century. At the same time, we have a reasonable corpus from which to draw material that can be used to evaluate his teaching. Nevertheless, clear writing is often the issue. How much that can be said about what Ignatius believed hinges upon how clearly he says it, and how unequivocal is his semantic habit. It will be the goal of this paper to give the background of Ignatius, the parameters of this argument as it relates to the liturgical entity of the Eucharist, the exponents and arguments of the sundry opinions in respect to Ignatius, and to argue that views supporting Ignatius’ alleged belief that Christ was really present in the elements of the Eucharist rest upon the poor footing of Ignatius’ own equivocal language and the habit of later schlolars toward simplistic ressourcement.
1A good synopsis of the trajectory of thought in these other areas of investigation may be found in Schoedel’s extremely helpful article in ANRW. (William R. Schoedel, “Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 27.1:272-358.)
2Bauer believed that Ignatius may have represented some form of minority report. He supports this with an assertion as to the way minority viewpoints have a way of moving toward strong dictatorial style leadership. He believes that Ignatius’ letters with admonitions seem modeled after this dictatorial style. (Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Mifflintown, Pa.: Sigler Press, 1996), 62-63; repr. of Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (trans. Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins and edited by Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971); trans. of second German edition with added appendices by, Georg Strecker.)