There are several contextual issues that must be investigated with respect to Ignatius’ understanding of the Eucharist. These provide perspective on what framework Ignatius was using when he discussed the Eucharist. They provide important clues as to how Ignatius might be understood. They also provide parameters delimiting how much can or cannot be understood about his eucharistic views from his writings. The first issue is the current liturgical debate inasmuch as it employs Ignatius as a source. The second issue is the nature of Ignatius’ language and rhetoric as he employs it in his letters. The third and final issue is the significance of the Eucharist in Ignatian theology.
The Current Liturgical Debate
The object of this study is to examine Ignatius’ contribution to our understanding of the Eucharist and to determine whether or not Ignatius intentionally contributed the concept of real presence as understood by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglo-Catholics, and Lutherans. In order to do this, it seems fitting to briefly examine the character of recent studies regarding liturgy. Bauer’s hypothesis led many with a ressourcement bent to seek for the origins of church practice and liturgy as much as it sent the sixteenth-century reformers back to Scripture.
Ever since the days of Lietzmann and Dix, there has been controversy surrounding the formulation of the eucharistic liturgy. Recently, it has been Bradshaw’s thesis to debunk the work of Dix.<note: Paul F. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), vi.> Bauer’s work would predate Dix’s by some ten years. Lietzmann’s Messe und Herrenmahl predated Bauer by about the same amount.<note: Robert Douglas Richardson, introduction to Mass and Lord’s Supper: A Study in the History of the Liturgy, by Hans Lietzmann (trans. Dorothea H. G. Reeve; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1953), ix.> Lietzmann is responsible for giving us the idea of the two different liturgies for the Eucharist. One was modeled upon Petrine and Jewish piety, while the other upon Pauline practice with an emphasis on memorializing the passion. The former emphasized the fellowship meal, and the latter the elemental anemnesis. Bauer would, of course, emphasize the pluriform nature of all theology and liturgy during the early centuries of church history. Thus, Lietzmann’s proposal would fit nicely with Bauer’s hypothesis. Later, Dix, while conceding perhaps a window of openness for form with respect to the Eucharist sought to prove an early establishment for the liturgical entity which he thought captured the very essence of Christianity: “Of all christian ‘ritual patterns’ that of the eucharist is by common consent central as most important.”<note: Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, (3rd ed.; New York: Continuum, 2005), xxix.> Dix would go on to describe a eucharistic tradition that moved from the sevenfold form of the Last Supper to the fourfold form we have today.<note: Dix explains the ‘seven-action scheme’ as “Our Lord (1) took bread; (2) ‘gave thanks’ over it; (3) broke it; (4) distributed it, saying certain words. Later He (5) took a cup; (6) ‘gave thanks’ over then; (7) handed it to His disciples, saying certain words.” The fourfold tradition he explains thusly: “(1) the offertory; bread and wine are ‘taken’ and placed on the table together. (2) The prayer; the president gives thanks to God over bread and wine together. (3) The fraction; the bread is broken. (4) The communion; the bread and wine are distributed together.” (ibid., 48.)> This provided the rite some protection from the more relativistic forces at work in Bauer’s thought. The Eucharist becomes the essential rite of Christianity despite the fact that Bauer’s thesis had demolished the ecclesiastical model regarding other doctrines. Dix’s model is currently under siege by a host of liturgical scholars. Bradshaw’s ideas drew heavily from the writings of McGowan who also discounted Dix’s thesis of early eucharistic unity.<note: Andrew, McGowan, Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals, (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1999), 18-21.> McGowan makes much of the variations of eucharistic liturgy. He primarily examines the various traditions regarding the contents of the cup, and even the place of the agape in relation to the paschal celebration. Bradshaw’s contribution, which will be dealt with later, is significant. While he entertains doubts concerning the essential unity of the essential rite with Christianity, he seems to have little doubt as to the meaning of Ignatius’ ‘realistic’ language. Bradshaw’s stated purpose is to refute Dix’ view of an early standardization of the liturgy of the Eucharist. This he seems to succeed in doing, however the very doubt he employs to cast aspersions on an early standardization he fails to employ when discussing real presence with respect to the text of Ignatius.<note: Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins, 87ff.> It would seem that variations as to order, elements, and significance would include the issue of real presence. If so, might it be that if present order can be read back into primordial chaos, could scholars be reading real presence back into the text of Ignatius? On the other hand, could a pluriform second-century Christianiy include a concept like real presence?
The Nature of Ignatius’ Language and Rhetoric
Barnard relates the most jaded view of Ignatius’ language found yet in the literature:
Ignatius cannot wholly be explained in terms of modern psychology although his language sometimes betrays an exuberance and wildness which could be interpreted as neurotic. However we must never forget that Ignatius was a condemned prisoner who was being transported across Asia Minor in the custody of Roman soldiers.<note: It must be noted the Barnard does not think Ignatius cannot be taken seriously at all. Quite the contrary, he believes that Ignatius provides a unique opportunity for study once all the variables of his situation are fully understood. (L. W. Barnard, “The Background of St. Ignatius of Antioch,” Vigiliae Christianae 17: 193.)>
This sentiment is echoed by other writers as well. Ignatius employs some rather impassioned and colorful speech. He will, by no means, lull to sleep even the most casual of readers. So prolific are his metaphors and mythological language that MacQuarrie seeks to demythologize him after the order of Bultmann.<note: John MacQuarrie, “True Life in Death,” Journal of Bible and Religion 31: 200-207.> It is perhaps the magical-like phrase of Ignatius in which he calls the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality”<note: ????????? ?????????. (Ignatius, Eph. 20.2).> that garners the most attention because of its obvious connection to pagan terminology. Schoedel, in his commentary, provides several paragraphs of material ranging from its identification with the drug that Isis used to raise Horus from the dead to Seneca’s reference to the hemlock drunk by Socrates as the medicamentum inmortalitatis.<note: William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Hermeneia, ed. Helmut Koester, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 97-98.> This sort of language has proved to be the undoing of any easy assumptions upon Ignatius’ orthodoxy. Based upon statements like this, the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule would identify Ignatius with Gnosticism and Asiatic mystery religions such as Schlier and Bartsch have arugued.<note: Mikael Isacson, To Each Their Own Letter: Structure, Themes, and Rhetorical Strategies in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, (ConBNT 42; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2004, 15).> Bauer, of course, believed this very strongly.<note: Of Syrian religion in general: (Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy, 65). Of Ignatius in particular: (ibid., 67).>
As far as Ignatius’ rhetoric, the premier study has been done by Perler who notes similarities with what is known as “Asianic” rhetoric. Schoedel describes this rhetoric as emphasizing the pathos:
Indeed, figures of speech of all kinds were popular (metaphors, comparisons, oxymorons, paronomasia, hyperbole, etc). . .Most of these features . . . are abundantly illustrated in the letters of Ignatius. Indeed they seem exaggerated under the impact of the bishop’s religious fervor and his impassioned reflections on the significance of his impending martyrdom.<note: Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 8-9.>
It was also Perler that demonstrated a similarity of vocabulary between IV Maccabees, that both are examples of “Asianic” rhetoric.<note: Schoedel, “Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch,” 311.> Young notes that the origins of the expiatory suffering themes found in Ignatius may be linked to ideas expressed in 4 Maccabees.<note: Frances M. Young, The Use of Sacrificial Ideas in Greek Christian Writers From the New Testament to John Chrysostom, (Patristic Monograph Series 5; Cambridge, Mass.: The Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, 1979), 109.>
It can be concluded, then, that any exposition of Ignatius’ linguistic intent must take into account not only his impassioned situation but also the particular rhetoric that he employed. To understand Ignatius in terms of wooden literalism would probably overstate Ignatius’ case, thus falling short of the true intent of the author.
The Significance of the Eucharist in Ignatian Theology
The Eucharist for Ignatius carries primary significance. In some ways it is a sort of panacea for the ills that plague the churches of Asia Minor. In his letter to the Ephesians, he points to the Eucharist as being the very point of gathering in worship. If they remain outside the sanctuary (qusiasthrivou), they “lack the bread of God.”<note: Ignatius, Eph., 5.2. (Ehrman, LCL).> He urges them later, in the same letter, to give thanks or to celebrate the Eucharist (??????????? ???? ??????????? ????).<note: Ibid., 13.1.> To the Philadelphians he urges them to “be eager” to observe the Eucharist.<note: Ignatius, Phld., 4.1.> To the Smyrnaeans the Eucharist is shown by Ignatius to be the point of division between consistent belief and schismatic belief.<note: Ignatius, Smyrn., 7.> The Eucharist is thought to be valid only when a bishop or his representative is present at the meal with the church.<note: Ibid., 8.> Ignatius’ view of the Eucharist is one that brings about unity. It is that which separates orthodox from heretic. It is that which unifies the body of Christ in one confession under one bishop.<note: “The union of the Christian community, as Ignatius understands it, comes from Christ’s body and blood. It is not a union we experience and symbolize with Christ. It is a union effected, brought about by the Eucharist. The church, presided over by the one bishop, is “the single altar of sacrifice” in which this unity-making Eucharist is celebrated.” (Cummings, Eucharistic Doctors, 14).>
Ignatius seems to have directly referred to or, at least, alluded to the Eucharist in all seven of his letters, and he seems to have thought it to be the antidote for heresy and schism as much as medicine of immortality. This concentration on a singular theme may warp its meaning by the weight placed upon its significance.