Monday, February 11, 2008

Ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch

I had hoped to post some reflections on the connection between Christology and martyrdom in the epistles of St Ignatius the God-bearer of Antioch, whose memory the Orthodox Church today celebrates, but I'm afraid that will have to wait. Instead, I direct you to Fr John Romanides' remarkable essay, 'The Ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch," of which I excerpt a few paragraphs:
The ecclesiology of St. Ignatius rests exclusively and harmoniously upon the biblical teaching concerning salvation and its appropriation. The resurrected flesh and blood of God (Ign. Rom. 7; Eph. 1) is the only source of immortality, of unity with each other in Christ, and of power to struggle for selfless love and simultaneously defeat the devil. Salvation is not magical. God Himself saves those who gather together in the life of selfless love with their clergy epi to auto. The visible Church is composed of those only who continuously share in the corporate eucharistic life. This life of selfless love for God and neighbor is an end in itself. Good works are not, therefore, performed for utilitarian motivations as part of a divine-human business, but rather are expressions of the struggle for selfless love, as well as a most effective weapon against Satan. God has no need of man's acts of charity. It is man who needs good works, prayer and fasting as a spiritual exercise for selfless love and as an effective means of remaining attentive and spiritually alert against the attacks of Satan. Justification by faith alone is a non-biblical myth (Eph. 6:11-17) of sentimental magic based on the false presupposition that salvation is primarily and essentially a matter of divine internal psychology. Beyond the life of unity centered in the corporate Eucharist as an end in itself there is no Church and only God can know if there is any salvation. Where the Church is not locally manifested and being formed by God epi to auto there is the rest humanity being carried to and fro by the prince of this world. "I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me." (John 17:9)

As all other things pertaining to the Church, the clergy aslo exists for the sole purpose of preserving and increasing the life of unity and love epi to auto in the flesh and blood of Christ. "Maintain your position with all care ... preserve the unity, than which nothing is better." (Pol. 1.) The authority of the clergy is founded exclusively upon the mysteries of unity in Christ and not at all upon any imagined personal power of magic. The clergy as such cannot save. Only the resurrected flesh of Christ saves when received in unity and selfless love for each other epi to auto. Even within the corporate life of the mysteries it is Christ and not the Church that saves. The Church locally manifested is herself being saved by the Father Who continuously sends His Spirit to form the body of Christ gathered epi to auto. (epiclesis, John 16:7-11; I John 3:23.)

In the Constantinopolitan Synods of 1341 and 1351 (John Karmiris, The Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments of the Orthodox Catholic Church, Athens 1952, vol. 1, p. 294ff.) the Orthodox Church vigorously condemned all magical understandings of salvation which might conceive of the saving grace or energy of God as something created, stored quantitatively within a so-called bank of grace, and distributed quantitatively through sacramental acts and indulgences, by proclaiming the biblical and patristic teaching that God Himself saves men directly by His own uncreated energy. The very basis of all Orthodox doctrine concerning Trinity, Christology, Ecclesiology, and Soteriology is the fact that God creates, sustains, and saves creation not by created means, but by His Own life-giving energy. Only God can be the source and subject of His uncreated energies. The divine energies are neither the essence of God (God is not actus purus), for this would mean that God acts by essence and not by will (pantheism), nor hypostatic (individual entities), for this would either reduce God to a mere platonic conglomeration of ideas, or to a neo-platonic source of emanating creatures, thereby confusing the Son and the Spirit with such creatures. (A good example of such views concerning divine energies may be found in the teachings of the heretics attacked by St. Irenaeus.) The divine energies are not creatures, but precisely the creating, life-giving, justifying, uncreated energy of God. Therefore grace cannot be manipulated and distributed by man who can only partake of this uncreated light of God in the corporate life of selfless love in the flesh of Christ locally manifested and formed by God Himself in real people epi to auto. This fact is extremely clear in the thought of St. Ignatius and is repeated by the whole patristic tradition of the East, and is especially re-emphasized by the anti-scholastic polemics of the 14th century.
Read the entire essay here.

The above icon depicts the martyrdom of St Ignatius in Rome.


Maximus Daniel said...

I read through all of St. Ignatius' epistles the other night for a refreshment. I had almost forgotten how powerful his work is.

Macrina said...

Many thanks for this text and the link! I was reading Ignatius this morning as I'm due to be teaching on him this afternoon. I really need to make the time to read this, there is so much that is so powerful.

Felix Culpa said...

What's even more astonishing about the power and depth of these epistles is that they are hastily composed letters written while being led to Rome by his captors; they weren't conceived of as theological treatises. One could almost think of them, in today's terms, as emails sent to his flock.