Monday, November 9, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch similar to Polycarp, does not write enough to show a definitive soteriology. The only extant works from this father are six epistles to different churches, and one to Polycarp. By piecing together certain of his statements, however, it may be possible to construct a (though somewhat deficient) theology of grace in his thought. In his address to his epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius states the following:
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestined before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the passion by the will of God the Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour"

Ignatius here speaks in a way that most later fathers do not. His wording is Pauline. The similarities in Ephesians chapter one are obvious. One is elected and predestined before the beginning of time. I admit, it is not possible from this statement to know whether or not Ignatius believed in a monergistic predestination (I.e. the Reformed and Lutheran Confessions) or a predestination based upon God’s foreseeing of one’s faith (I.e. Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy). One thing to notice in Ignatius, here, as well as in other parts of his letters is that God is always pre-eminent in discussions of salvation. One is predestined by God the Father. One is united to God and elected by both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another statement in this epistle has the propensity to be misused if understood to be about justification. “For though I am bound for his name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus.” This of course does not have to be referring to justification and is most likely not. Not being “perfect” probably either refers to complete sanctification, or glorification.
In his epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius states, “For were he to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be.” While this statement does not directly speak of justification, it does show that Ignatius saw our works as unable to gain reward on their own. A statement in Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians may point to fuller Pauline understanding of justification. “By believing in his death, ye may escape from death.” This shows the pre-eminence of faith in his thought, however in and of itself does not prove that faith alone in Christ’s death saves a man. This emphasis on faith is shown later in the same letter. “His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess true life” A similar statement occurs in his epistle to the Philadelphians,
"Let us also love the prophets, because they too have proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; in whom also believing, they were saved, through union to Jesus Christ, being holy men, worthy of love and admiration, having had witness borne to them by Jesus Christ, and being reckoned along with [us] in the gospel of our common hope."
In his discussion of the use of the prophets, the reason he gives for their being saved is their faith. Their faith was effective “through union to Jesus Christ.” This echoes Paul’s constant theme of union with Christ. One may argue that their “being holy men” was also part of their salvation. This is a possible reading of Ignatius but not the only one. He may be using the idea of being “holy men” as a demonstration of one’s faith. He may also be using salvation as a far broader term than justification. Either the way, the pre-eminent instrument of salvation is one’s faith and union with Christ. We are left unsure exactly what Ignatius means.
The only explicit statement about justification in Ignatius’ writings is in his epistle to the Philadelphians. “His cross, His death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire through your prayers to be justified.” The cause of justification is not one’s works or even one’s faith. Rather, it is the death and resurrection of Christ. Here, Ignatius is thoroughly Pauline. Ignatius has one final statement in his writings which may help explain his doctrine of salvation. “As persons who are perfect, ye should also aim at those things which are perfect.” In the context, Ignatius is trying to motivate the Smyrneans to perform good works. The motivation for doing these works is that these Christians are perfect. This is a use of the indicative and imperative. What does it mean that these people “are perfect?” It could mean that they are already counted worthy of eternal life, already justified.
There is one statement in Ignatius’ epistle to Polycarp which may point to works-based salvation. “Let your works be the charge assigned to you that you may receive a worthy recompense.” What is this worthy recompense? It may not be an issue of justification. It may be an issue of eternal rewards that God graciously gives to those who perform good works. These rewards would not be rewards that determine one’s ultimate salvation.
Similar to Polycarp, Ignatius is at times obviously Pauline, yet he does not give enough information for us to completely understand his thought. The purpose of his letters are to fight (non soteriological) heresies, and to exhort believers. Thus he did not go into detail about justification, election and the atonement.

No comments: