Friday, October 17, 2008

The Other St. Ignatius

Readers of this blog have, through the years, found many a reference to St. Ignatius Loyola, for whom I have a rather unbounded admiration. Equally unbounded is my admiration for today's St. Ignatius, the early (I mean early!) martyr and bishop of Antioch--at the time, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. The ink was barely dry on the pages of the New Testament when Ignatius was condemned to death as a leader of the illegal religious group known as Christians. It wasn't enough for Rome to dispatch him in Antioch: this "pestilential sect" was known to have spread across the Empire. Ignatius, a revered overseer (the literal meaning of the word for bishop) would be made an example and a warning. So he was led in chains across half the Roman world, knowing that at the end of his journey he would be thrown to ravenous beasts in an arena filled with screaming and bloodthirsty spectators.
Following the example of the often-imprisoned St. Paul, Ignatius wrote letters all the way to Rome. Fabulous letters. Seven of them have come down to us: to the Philippians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans...even the Philadelphians! These letters show us the caliber of the man about to face death for Christ. He was more than a brave and wise "overseer" of the Church of Antioch: he was a mystic whose whole focus was on being made one with Christ--even if it was "the teeth of wild beasts" that would "grind [him], the wheat of Christ, into pure bread." He begged the Romans not to show him "untimely charity" by attempting to have him released: he could practically hear the Spirit within him like murmuring water, saying "Come to the Father."


Anonymous said...

In this line of Ignatious' martyrdom, what do you think of the recently promulgated idea that Judas may have been Jesus' favorite disciple, and to this regard was especially chosen by Him to carry out His fate? And, so in this action, it makes the nature of humanity seem quantifiable, predictable, and thus the fate ultimately inevitable? Would a factual suggestion of this turn of events this be heretical?

xaipe said...

I don't really understand your second sentence. How can human nature be "quantifiable"? And how (third sentence) could a "turn of events" be "heretical"? Events are events. Heresy is false doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, Sister Anne. By 'quantifiable' I meant 'measurable', x + y = z, i.e. predictable, as something that we see time after time with the rise and fall of a decadent society, that when people stand up for their beliefs in God, they are predictably killed by an angry mob. Though farfetched, it seems to me that an awful lot of martyrs must've known that was going to happen to them if they stayed true to speaking out, so if Jesus knew it, as a human, he could anticipate it and plan for it with Judas.

By heresy, I mean, that the idea I heard the other day doesn't seem so unlikely as to be false doctrine. The speaker talked about books (and missing texts) in the New Testament that described events that seemed to corroborate the particular line of thought. I suppose the interpretation of it might well be heretical if it's not accepted by the Vatican, then.

xaipe said...

You are certainly onto something in terms of predictable outcomes: things in this life surely have a generally predictable range of outcomes (show by your life that you live by a different set of standards than the surrounding society and that society may find ways to marginalize you), but wherever free will is involved, you catapult out of the realm of the "quantifiable." No one can predict the movements of grace or the response of the person to grace. Thanks be to God for that!
Your other comment/question seemed to assume that the speaker's reference to "missing" books of the New Testament was on target. It is not. The New Testament is not an exhaustive collection of ancient writings relating to a specific person, Jesus, from a specific time period such that any books that fit those two criteria automatically belonged. The ancient world was not that different from our own culture in that anyone who had an idea to communicate and the means to share that idea could find a way to do so. Some ancient "spiritual" writings were the papyrus equivalents of certain, um, blogs today. The Church of the ancient world was under no obligation to recognize as Scripture writings which did not accord with the teachings that were known to have been handed on by the Apostles and maintained in a consistent way in the communities founded by those Apostles and their closest collaborators. Even Paul warned his communities about spurious writings!
The New Testament "canon" (list of books) was well established before the end of the 200's. There was no vetting committee reviewing manuscripts for possible inclusion. Quite the contrary! The writings that were being used in worship and had been consistently and universally used in worship were "recognized" as having a special status. That consistency across time and space is one of the most significant aspects of canonicity.
The canon of the New Testament is itself an aspect of Divine Revelation, a work of the Holy Spirit, who cannot "deceive nor be deceived." As interesting as other ancient writings are, they will never be added to the New Testament. Even if we found, say, a Third Letter of Paul to the Corinthians--with an original signature!--it would make not one bit of difference. It would just be interesting; another source of ancient data to work with.
So if there is any "heresy" so far, it is the suggestion that the New Testament is incomplete. (Yep. That's heresy.)
Ancient writings that were already being dismissed in the third century can tell us something of the strands of thought that were extent in one locale or another at the time. Some of these philosophies are again very stylish (error is not always terribly imaginative). And there may be future historical discoveries that add to our insight in many ways. But it would, frankly, be impossible for discoveries of themselves to be "heretical." The conclusions some thinkers draw from the discoveries may veer into error, but that would be more likely because the thinkers themselves attempted to draw doctrinal conclusions from historical evidence--and that's both a mistake in logic and a lack of understanding of the specific roles of history and of doctrine.

xaipe said...
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xaipe said...

I don't want to insinuate that we have nothing to learn from archaeology or the study of ancient manuscripts--far from it! But archaeologists are only in their depths when they tell us about history, about ancient cultures and economies and the like. And scholars of ancient languages can really only tell us about the history of manuscript traditions or the use and development of vocabulary and things like that. Their findings can point to areas where the Church might need to investigate her own teachings more deeply--because it is possible, certainly, for believers to assume more than a doctrine actually intends to teach. My real point is that archaeologists and other scholars, on the basis of their scholarly discipline alone, are not qualified to define doctrines. That is the specific role of the Church, and in the Church, of the bishops (in union with the Pope). That is why Catholic books used in teaching Scripture or doctrine have a bishop's "Imprimatur" ("let it be printed"): it is a sign that the teachings in that book are recognizably Catholic: consistent with the universal (in geography and in time) doctrine of the Church. And even bishops (including the Pope) do not have authority over the doctrine they teach: they are servants of a message that has been handed on to them.

spqr said...

Thanks for your excellent response to anonymous. Speaking for myself, you have certainly instructed the ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to explain this, dear Sister. I appreciate your honesty, integrity, and accessibility via blog!