God the Father and Jesus Christ: Ignatius of Antioch and the Economy of God, Part 3

Completing our series on Igantius’ letters (Part 1; Part 2), we find a smaller content in his three remaining letters:

Philadelphians

In the Bishop’s greeting to the brothers and sisters at Philadelphia, we find Ignatius using a Pauline greeting similar to the one used in Galatians 1.3: ‘God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ’ (θεο πατρς κα κυρου ησο Χριστο) Much like the rest of Paul’s introductions, there is no ‘the’, reading in some translations, God our Father and Lord, Jesus Christ. Farther, in the greeting Ignatius writes that the holy Spirit is Jesus Christ’s. In contrast to this, the Bishop in chapter 7 writes, ‘yet the Spirit, as being from God.’ (See Romans 8.9) For Ignatius, the Spirit that comes from the Christ, is the same Spirit that comes from God.

In chapter 3, as we have seen so many times in Ignatius’ writings, he compares the relationship between the congregation and the Bishop (overseer) to that of the unity between God and Jesus Christ. In chapter 7, he urges that the congregation ‘be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father. This calls to mind the prayer of Christ in which He sought for unity among the brethren that mimicked the united between the Father and the Son. If we understand the unity in the light of the Incarnation of God, we see that Ignatius understands a physical separation exists between the congregation and the Bishop, but there must be one will that united the two. It is difficult to believe, especially with Ignatius’ use of the phrase ‘our God, Jesus Christ’ that the sees a post-Incarnation distinction between the two. If he does, they he further sees that Christ is a ‘follower’ of God, and can never be a part of God.

Smyrnaeans

In the letter to the congregation of Polycarp, Ignatius boldly states in chapter 1 that he glorifies ‘Jesus Christ, the God who has given you such wisdom.’ (James 1.5). This statement that Jesus Christ is God, with the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit, as would later be deemed heretical is followed by Ignatius’ expansion of Romans 1.3, which seems to take the form of an early creed. He returns to this confession of Faith in chapter 7 when he is speaking about the heretics that abstain from the Eucharist. It all of Ignatius’ writings, never once does it consider the Son a God beside the Father, never referring to Christ as God the Son, but always, simply, God. If there is a distinction to be made between the Father and the Son, as is in chapter 1 and chapter 7, it always revolves around the Incarnation.

To Polycarp

The letter to Polycarp is filled with touches of friendship, last words, and thoughts for the congregation that Ignatius is leaving behind. In his last words to his friend on this side of heaven, the Bishop of Antioch writes to the Bishop of Smyrna, that he will pray for your (Polycarp) happiness forever in Jesus Christ our God.’ There is no mention of God the Father or God the Son, or even the Spirit, but simply, as Ignatius as shown throughout his letters, to the one God, Jesus Christ.

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