Patristics, Philosophy

Real Presence in the Writings of Ignatius of Antioch, part 3, Parameters of the Eucharist as a Liturgical Entity

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.

Patristics, Philosophy

Real Presence in the Writings of Ignatius of Antioch – part 2, Ignatius in Time and Space

Note: citations and notes are now embedded in the text with brackets around them.

Other than one reference by Eusebius and another by Polycarp, there is little direct external evidence to the life and ministry of Ignatius.  His letters stand as his best biography even if they are meager in describing the entirety of life, ministry, and teaching.

Life and Times of Ignatius of Antioch
Although his episcopal successions are debatable, Eusebius tells us that he was the second bishop after Peter in Antioch during the reign of Trajan.<note: Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.36.> Polycarp makes a passing reference to Ignatius’ martyrdom along with other believers’ martyrdom in his letter to the Philippians.<note: Polycarp, Phil., 9.> His see was located in Syrian Antioch, and he was arrested for some offense connected to his religion.  The precise nature of this condemnation is uncertain especially given recent studies which underscore the fact that there was little persecution occurring in the region of Antioch as evidenced by the absence of reference to such in Ignatius’ own letters.  Trevett argues that the peace in Antioch mentioned in Ignatius’ letters<note: Ignatius, Phld. 10.1; Smyrn. 11.1; Pol. 7.1.> is best explained by a cessation of strife in the church at Antioch and quite possibly a strife brought about by Ignatius’ own personality.<note: Christine Trevett, A Study of Ignatius of Antioch in Syria and Asia (Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), 56-66.> Cummings echoes this sentiment.<note: Owen F. Cummings, Eucharistic Doctors: A Theological History (New York: Paulist Press, 2005), 9.> Scholars debate the circumstances surrounding the arrest and condemnation of Ignatius. On the one hand, he could have appealed to Rome much like Paul, if he was a citizen of Rome. On the other hand, this hardly fits the context of his letters where he speaks of himself as already condemned and expecting to be thrown to the beasts – uncharacteristic of a Roman citizen, imploring the Roman believers not to intervene on his behalf. The alternate explanation has usually been to explain his being sent to Rome as a donation to the Emperor for the Roman games. Davies believes both to be unlikely, and that the ultimate reason to send Ignatius to Rome was to rid the area of a troublesome character.<note: Steven L. Davies, “The Predicament of Ignatius of Antioch,” Vigiliae Christianae 30: 178.> The date of Ignatius’ death is not without some mystery, but recent discussions by both Trevett and Davies place it between 110 and 115.  Davies places the terminus ante quem for Ignatius’ death at 113,<note: Davies’ argument is rather baroque, resting on an intricate reconstruction of the administrations of several Roman and territorial bureaucrats. (ibid., 178.)> whereas Trevett places it at 115.<note: In contradistinction to Davies, Trevett selects her date based upon the date of the Antiochene earthquake of 115. (Christine Trevett, “Ignatius ‘To the Romans’ and I Clement LIV-LVI,” Vigiliae Christianae 43: 36.)>  The exact details of Ignatius’ death are not to be found in any reliable sources. That he did indeed die a martyr’s death seems somewhat attested to by Polycarp, although this is not altogether without question. <note: Polycarp, Phil., 9. (Cf. 13).>

The Time and Occasion of the Letters
The letters of Ignatius were written during his travels from Antioch to Rome.  The number of these letters has been of some controversy. Most scholars speak of three recensions with respect to the Ignatian correspondence: the long (L), the middle (M) and the short (S). The middle recension is the accepted norm for scholarship today. It hearkens back to the original seven letters mentioned by Eusebius.<note: Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.36> Again, Schoedel’s explanation is very beneficial for understanding the history of the controversy.<note: William R. Schoedel, “Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch,” ANRW 27.1: 286-292.> Of the middle recension, the letters are divided into two groups determined by provenance. The first group consists of letters written from Smyrna to congregations in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome.  The second group of letters was written from Troas and written to the congregations at Philadelphia and Smyrna. A personal letter to Polycarp at Smyrna is included with this last group.<note: Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.36.>

In his letters, Ignatius addresses either conditions with which he was familiar in his own church or those issues of which he has knowledge pertaining to the churches to which the letters are addressed. He stresses unity in the face of heresy. This unity is preserved by means of submission to ecclesiastical authorities and an intensified serious practice of the Eucharist. Ignatius also says much about his own view of the spiritual life in the context of his impending martyrdom. There seems to be connection between the attainment of unity in the churches; his martyrdom; and that which, for him, it emulates, the Eucharist.<note: Madeleine Grace, “The Ponderings of Ignatius of Antioch and John Chrisostom on the Great Gift of the Eucharist,” Diakonia 34: 98. Bradshaw and Cummings also express this view in various ways and in various places in their works on the Eucharist.> The mystical nature of Ignatius’ theology cannot be denied. In fact, many seem willing to identify him with the same sort of mysticism that can be found in both John and Paul.  For Ignatius, the Eucharist plays a vital role in the maintenance of orthodoxy under one bishop with heretics either excluding themselves or being actively excluded by the orthodox community.<note: Ignatius. Smyrn., 7.1-2.>

The identity of the heretics has been questioned for some time.  In his letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius warns against whose who “should interpret Judaism”<note: Ignatius, Phld., 6.1 (Ehrman, LCL).> to the believers there.  The passage begins in chapter six in the letter to the Philadelphians, and extends through chapter nine. Again, in his letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius warns and reproves Judaizers in chapters eight through ten.  There seems, however to be little evidence of this sort of heresy to be extant in the vicinity and congregations of any of the other churches.  Ignatius also addresses a form of docetism.  It is perhaps to this sort of heresy that his famous passages on the Eucharist carry seem to be directed. The letters to the Ephesians, Trallians and Smyrnaeans all contain evidence of this heresy in these areas as Ignatius proceeds to argue against their views. His letter to the Magnesians gives some evidence for Docetism being present there as well.  The questions remain, as Goulder frames it, were Philadelphia and Magnesia the only churches plagued by Judaizing?  Secondly, how broad was the problem with Docetism in Asia? Thirdly, were the heresies held by one and the same homogenous species of heretic – some form of judaizing-docetists?  Goulder proposes an actual identity for this final suggestion. He believes that what is at issue with Ignatius is Ebionitism.  The heretics, to Goulder’s reckoning, were Ebionites; but there are other views.<note: Here and in several other places one can trace the lineage of this debate. Those who hold to a single judaistic-docetic sect are Zahn, Lightfoot, Bauer, and Barrett.  Schoedel, Donahue, Meinhold hold to a two group view while Paulsen “sits on the fence.” Trevett holds to a three group view. See note 10 in this citation for a full bibliography. (Michael D. Goulder, “Ignatius’ ‘Docetists,’” Vigiliae Christianae 53: 16-30.)> These heresies along with the ever nearing death of Ignatius combine to provide an interesting thrust to the message of Ignatius.  It is our task to examine just one of the implications of this message.