Continuing my review of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians…
I urge you, therefore – not I, but Jesus Christ’ love – use only Christian food. Keep off foreign fare, by which I mean heresy. For those people mingle Jesus Christ with their teachings just to gain your confidence under false pretenses. It is as if they were giving a deadly poison mixed with honey and wine, with the result that the unsuspecting victim gladly accepts it and drinks down death with fatal pleasure.
Where we left off, Ignatius was making vague comments about spiritual matters that he didn’t want to get into, lest he “choke” the Trallians by accident. The food metaphor continues now with a warning against bad teachings (heresy) which are often presented as if they’re good and true. Another metaphor along these lines is to beware wolves in sheep’s clothing: what looks/sounds/tastes good can be fatally poisonous.
So use only “Christian food,” Ignatius says. Does this mean he would advocate for Christian children going to private or home-based Christian schools, in order to avoid being “indoctrinated” into the secular culture? Maybe. In a lot of these Early Church writings, there is a strong awareness of the radical difference between Christian society and the rest of society. When the Empire was Christianized, the public culture was predominated by Christianity, so the radical difference was less apparent, but given the fact that American culture today is often Christian-esque in appearance but really isn’t at the core, I think it may well quality as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or a poison mixed with honey and wine.
At the very least, we should take care to heed Christian doctrine over against non-Christian religious views.
Be on your guard, then, against such people. This you will do by not being puffed up and by keeping very close to [our] God, Jesus Christ, and the bishop and the apostles’ precepts.
Here’s the obvious application of chapter 6: watch out for heretics. Ignatius elaborates on this by identifying humility (“not being puffed up”) as a key virtue in this endeavor. How true! Church splits (and most other relationship breakdowns) almost always occur due to a lack of humility – someone (if not both sides) cannot fathom the possibility of being wrong.
Along with humility are listed three sources of orthodoxy: Jesus, the bishop, and the Apostles’ commands. This could be boiled down to 1) the Holy Spirit guiding us, 2) the teaching of the Church, and 3) the Bible. Hmm, sounds rather like the modern concept of the “three streams” there, doesn’t it – the charismatic, the catholic, and the evangelical. Each are a source of truth, and each supports one another.
Inside the sanctuary a man is pure; outside he is impure. That means: whoever does anything without bishop, presbytery, and deacons does not have a clear conscience.
The concept of the sanctuary usually denotes the presence of God. So what Ignatius is saying here is that the fullest (and thus most authoritative) presence of God to which we currently have access is the gathering of the Church in all orders of ministry: bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people. Hence the warning here that when lay people act without the three ordained orders of ministry, they’re not acting in accord with the fullness of the Church, and therefore cannot be assured that they’re doing the right thing.
I don’t think that this is a blanket statement, though, saying that absolutely everything we do must be by clerical degree. Rather, this is filling out the previous verses about heresy and orthodoxy: the teaching of the Church must be determined by the full orders of the Church, not by any one group (although as previously mentioned, the bishop does have a special role in passing on the teaching of the Apostles).
It is not because I have heard of any such thing in your case that I write thus. No, in my love for you I am warning you ahead, since I foresee the devil’s wiles. Recapture, then, your gentleness, and by faith (that’s the Lord’s flesh) and by love (that’s Jesus Christ’s blood) make yourselves new creatures.
Oftentimes the teachings found in epistles (be they in the Bible or not) are related to current problems among the recipients. In this case, though, such seems not to be the case. At least not quite – Ignatius can “foresee” this issue of heresy and teaching authority cropping up among the Trallians in the future. This isn’t necessarily some great spiritual insight; a few other of Ignatius’ letters to nearby churches do address a couple different heretical movements (namely, Judaizers and Docetists).
To avoid these heresies, he gives some practical advice: focus on cultivating the virtue of gentleness. Interestingly, this is the same virtue he’s trying to cultivate in himself, according to the end of chapter 4. He also alludes to Romans 12:2 in talking about “making yourselves new.” Specifically, though, he names faith and love as the means towards such renewal. Certainly this makes sense, as they’re both key virtues address throughout the Bible.
But especially interesting here is the Eucharistic association that Ignatius gives to faith & love. In fact, it’s hard to tell if he means that faith & love will make us new creatures, or if Christ’s flesh & blood will make us new! This is pretty typical, I’ve noticed, of Early Church sacramentology: the flesh & blood, or bread & wine, are synonymous with their effects: eternal life in Christ.
Let none of you hold anything against his neighbor. Do not give the heathen opportunities whereby God’s people should be scoffed at through the stupidity of a few. For, “woe to him by whose folly my name is scoffed at before any.”
Now there’s a serious charge! Quoting Isaiah 52:5, Ignatius concludes his warning against heresy with a warning against its effects: division and animosity. Clement’s (“first”) epistle also dwells on this warning quite a bit, since he’s addressing an actual event of schism in Corinth. Honestly, how many times have we seen Christians making fools of themselves, and end up making national news? And especially now with the internet, even small local news can be internationally known. And it all boils down to holding something against one’s neighbor. Perhaps we should stop asking “can’t we all just get along?” and start humbling ourselves before one another before we cause the next embarrassing news story that will cause atheists the world over to laugh at Christianity even more than they already do.