As I have mentioned a number of times, Calvin viewed the Ignatian epistles as spurious (for obvious reasons). I have also been in the habit of mentioning that he has since been proven wrong. A reader asked me how certain this really was and pointed to the book "The Ignatian Epistles Entirely Spurious" by W. D. Killen (Presbyterian minister). This book was written in response to Lightfoot whom I was mostly resting in when I said that it was an accepted fact these days that the epistles were genuine. I'm sure Killen's work has been dealt with adequately by others; as far as I can tell, Protestant and Catholic Patrologists alike take the authenticity of the seven Ignatian epistles for granted these days. But for fun, I threw together this quick and sloppy response to his book.
In point of fact, the letter of Polycarp, as a genuine production of the second century, occupies an incomparably higher position than the Ignatian Epistles. The internal evidence in its favour is most satisfactory. It is exactly such a piece of correspondence as we might expect from a pious and sensible Christian minister, well acquainted with the Scriptures, and living on the confines of the apostolic age.This quote makes it rather clear that Killen cannot envision a “pious and sensible Christian minister” being as Catholic as Ignatius obviously was. This is an important glance into the assumptions Killen brings to the table. Throughout the book, he repeatedly refers to bishops as “chief pastor” etc.. This is more than just a bit ridiculous. A weak case may be made for the interchangeability of the terms “bishop” and “priest” (“overseer” and “presbyter” if you want to be very Presbyterian about it) in the New Testament and in Clement to the Corinthians. In the second century and beyond, the argument is utterly worthless. Following Calvin, he is apparently interested only in showing that the early Church didn’t have bishops not in whether or not Ignatius actually wrote these letters.
But whilst the internal evidence testifies against them, they are not noticed by any writer for considerably more than a century after they are said to have appeared.I wonder if he is aware that the same could said of several of the canonical New Testament books. Killen blunders on Polycarp’s age following Eusebius saying that he died under Marcus Aurelius. He claims that Polycarp would have been 24 in 107 (using this as evidence that Ignatius wouldn’t have asked a youngster to write a letter on his behalf) whereas Polycarp was martyred at 86 years old in the year 155 (in fact it was February the 23rd). (See Catholic Encyclopedia for a discussion of this date) This would make him born in 69 or even 68 AD making him 38 at the time of the Ignatian epistles. Furthermore, it is not necessary that Polycarp follow Ignatius’ request to write letters to the remaining Churches immediately in the same year. I place his letter to the Philippians at approximately 111 AD which would make him 42 or 43. That’s plenty old enough to be writing the type of letter that he wrote. Remember, his honor wasn’t just because he was a clever guy, he was the successor and immediate student of the Apostle John. Killen erroneously places Polycarp’s letter in 161, 6 years after he died citing in a supposed mistranslation of the “Syria” in Polycarp’s letter to the small island of Psyria which was much closer to Smyrna. I have no credentials to argue the linguistics here other than the fact that scholars who translate it routinely translate it as Syria and not Psyria and that I think Killen is vastly overestimating the penetration of Christianity at this early stage. If Psyria did have a Christian community, it was most likely a very small one under the episcopate of an outside bishop. Not every fishing village had its own bishop in the second century.
That this letter of Polycarp to the Philippians was written at a time when persecution was rife, is apparent from its tenor throughout. If we except the case of Ignatius of Antioch--many of the tales relating to which Dr. Lightfoot himself rejects as fabulous [19:1]--we have no evidence that in A.D. 107 the Christians were treated with severity. The Roman world was then under the mild government of Trajan, and the troubles which afflicted the disciples in Bithynia, under Pliny, had not yet commenced.The letter of Pliny the Younger was written a mere 4-5 years after Ignatius. Trajan himself may have been mild in comparison to Nero or Marcus Aurelius, but he still approved of the Roman law of forcing Christians to worship the pagan gods. Killen is only getting his information from the fact that Trajan replied to Pliny telling him not to go searching for the Christians (but up until that point they had been!!!!) Trajan still says that Christians should be given a chance to repent (of Christianity) or else… Now the incidence of Pliny’s persecution and the general Roman persecution under Trajan was by no means limited to the year 111 or 112 AD when Pliny wrote to the emperor. Who knows how long this had been happening? Killen apparently thinks he does but provides no source.
In the Ignatian Epistle addressed to Polycarp, he is directed to "write to the Churches," to "call together a godly council," and "to elect" a messenger to be sent to Syria (sec. 7). Polycarp, in his letter to the Philippians, takes no notice of these instructions. He had obviously never heard of them. It is indeed plain that the letter of the Philippians to Polycarp had only a partial reference to the case of Ignatius and his companions. It was largely occupied with other matters; and to these Polycarp addresses himself in his reply.“Churches” is plural. The letter to the Philippians either represents only a portion of them or perhaps the instruction was followed out in an entirely separate incident. At any rate, we are not in possession of at least one of Polycarp’s letters, this much we can be fairly sure of. Of the entire ordeal (the supposed forgery) he writes:
In an uncritical age the cheat succeeded; the letters were quite to the taste of many readers; and ever since they have been the delight of High Churchmen.But why would it be an “uncritical age”? If the reformers were right, then the early Church was basically Protestant. The forgery (if it really happened) happened in the early Church. So the supposed fact that it was forged in the first place together with the subsequent supposed fact that it was widely and uncritically accepted shows that the early Church was very Catholic and very eager to accept Catholic sounding writing! If the early Church was really Protestantish – then they would have been “critical” (in the sense he’s using the word) and would have therefore rejected the “forgeries” or maybe they wouldn’t have been forged in the first place. So even if we consider them forgeries, it is still telling of a very Catholic early Church in the same way that the “Proto-evangelium of James” may be a forgery (under the name of James), it gives us profound insight into the second century Church’s view of Mary. Protestants seem to think that the Immaculate Conception was invented in the nineteenth century whereas this second century forgery goes even further than any of the dogmas of the Catholic Church!
Following Ussher, Killen places the martyrdom of Polycarp in 169 AD. This would make him a young teenager in the very last years of the apostle John (which would be a stretch to call him a “disciple”, thereby marginalizing a mass of early father testimony). It would also make him alive during all the writings of Justin Martyr (and even outliving Justin) and possibly alive at the writing of “Against Heresies”. This chronology causes far more problems than it solves (and all in the interest of showing the Ignatian epistles forgeries).
He explains that Irenaeus is obviously ignorant of the Ignatian epistles since he does not directly mention Ignatius’ name (although he clearly quotes from him : “As a certain man of ours said, when he was condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony with respect to God: I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.” Adv. Haer. 5.28.4 compared with Ignatius to the Romans 4 “I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”) While Irenaeus does quote from Ignatius, he does not quote from Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John or Jude. Are these to be considered spurious? The mere fact that he doesn’t mention his name doesn’t prove anything. He may well have not been in possession of these letters but only aware of them. Irenaeus didn’t exactly have Google at his finger tips.
He points out that Polycarp (while supposedly contemporary with Ignatius) quotes the New Testament far more than Ignatius and that Ignatius stresses the episcopacy far more than Polycarp. In fact, Polycarp doesn’t mention it at all. This is a fair point to ponder but I can offer a few responses. First, one writer may more naturally quote NT writings for his own specific purposes without the other being a forgery. I haven’t quoted the NT yet in this post and another contemporary of mine may write on this very subject and quote it extensively – can we then assume mine is a forgery and the two of us can’t be contemporaries? Isn’t it possible for differences in persons to exist between early Church fathers or must they all be identical to each other in order for us to consider them real people? Secondly, they are not strict contemporaries. It is quite possible and even likely that Ignatius and Polycarp have met each other. My guess is that Ignatius traveled to Asia Minor at some point to hear St. John and may have then met the young Polycarp. Their acquaintance is not likely to have extended much further than this (even this is speculation). Antioch was a different place than Smyrna. Ignatius was ordained by Peter (according to Theodoret) and was the successor of Evodius. Polycarp was ordained and instructed by John. These represent different localities and different traditions. It is not a stretch in the least to assume that they could have had varying emphases on the hierarchy of the Church or the Church in general. We know from the Quartodeciman controversy in the second century that there were a number of differences in the respective traditions arising from the East and West. St. John quite apparently was a quartodeciman while St. Peter and the Western apostles weren’t. This is not to say the East didn’t have bishops or that the East didn’t care about bishops. Far from it. It is only to say that Polycarp’s inherited tradition didn’t necessarily have as strong of an emphasis on episcopal hierarchy as Ignatius’ did. We can assent to this without assuming the two could not have possibly been contemporary.
In these letters Ignatius speaks as a vain babbler, drunken with fanaticism; Polycarp, in his Epistle, expresses himself like an humble-minded Presbyterian minister in his sober senses.He calls Polycarp a Presbyterian minister. Just wanted to point that out.
"He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doth aught against the knowledge of the bishop,rendereth service to the devil" [58:6] Polycarp, on the other hand, describes himself as one of the elders, and exhorts the Philippians to "submit to the presbyters and deacons," and to be "all subject one to another."I am utterly unconvinced here that these two are contradictory. The Church is composed of bishops, priests and deacons. Ignatius and Polycarp would both agree that we should submit to the presbyters and deacons; that Polycarp doesn’t mention the bishop certainly doesn’t mean he is unaware of their existence or that he would advocate rebellion to them or the unimportance of obedience to them. It shouldn’t be ignored that Polycarp doesn’t speak of the bishop, but we shouldn’t make too much of it either. Polycarp doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit. Do you see how far this “argument from silence” is going to get us? Again he says:
The internal evidence furnished by the Ignatian Epistles seals their condemnation.Which is basically admitting what this is all about. The “internal evidence” is that Ignatius’ ecclesiology is radically different from Killen’s and the Presbyterian community and therefore must be wrong.
The account of his hurried removal as a prisoner from Antioch to Rome, in the custody of ten fierce soldiers--whilst he was permitted, as he passed along, to hold something like a levee of his co-religionists at every stage of his journey--wears very much the appearance of an ill-constructed fiction.Actually, it sounds rather like St. Paul to me. Killen seems to think Pope Callistus (or according to him, Chief Presbyterian Minister of Rome - Callistus) was the forger of these epistles citing such evidence as:
Callistus, when labouring in the mines of Sardinia, must have been well acquainted with ropes and hoists; and here Ignatius describes the Ephesians as "hoisted up to the heights through the engine of Jesus Christ," having faith as their "windlass," and as "using for a rope the Holy Spirit."It may be just a bit of a stretch to assume one could only learn of “hoists” and “engines” in the salt mines of Sardina. He makes a further mistake here:
Hippolytus tells us that Callistus was a Patripassian. "The Father," said he, "having taken human nature, deified it by uniting it to Himself, ... and so he said that the Father had suffered with the Son." [75:3] Hence Ignatius, in these Epistles, startles us by such expressions as "the blood of God," [75:4] and "the passion of my God." [75:5]First of all, Hippolytus was wrong; Callistus wasn’t a Patripassianist. In fact, he excommunicated the arch-patripassianist (or modalist) Sabellius whom Hippolytus also criticizes. Beside that, I’m not sure if Killen understands what Patripassianism is since he seems to view Ignatius in error by referring to “the blood of God” and “the passion of my God”. However, Patripassianism is the error of ascribing the passion to God the Father, not merely “God”. Jesus is “God” but Jesus is not God the Father. God (the Son) did die on the cross, God the Father did not. Ignatius is not in error here.
Again, this is a sloppy and hurried response. I read and responded to the book entirely in this evening. Hope this has been useful if only minimally. In parting, obey your bishop!