Ignatius of Antioch: His Beliefs on the Trinity, Salvation, Sin, Christianity, and the Church

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In the first two to three centuries of the church, great energy was directed on clarifying the role and the nature of Jesus Christ in overcoming evil.

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The New Testament contains abundant claims and implications calling for systematic reflection. Even so, in this first section we may see that early Christians fully recognized the reality of evil and the central role of Jesus in overcoming evil, offering a life of abundance, and love of God and neighbor. According to tradition, two of the greatest followers of Jesus, Peter and Paul, were martyred in Rome.

The extent of the early persecution of the church is much debated, but there is little doubt of the prevalence of martyrdom in the early stages of Christianity. But the religion of Christianity was at last recognized as permissible to practice in with the Edict of Milan and it became the official religion of the Roman Empire in Let us consider four vital matters leading up to Christianity becoming a religion of the empire: reflection on the role of Jesus in overcoming evil; the initial stages of distinguishing orthodoxy literally, right belief and rightful authority from heresy; the relationship between Jews and Gentiles; and the difficulties of evolving from a prosecuted minority faith to its official state sponsorship.

Each of these have a bearing on early Christian thought on evil. Who was Jesus and what did he do? Disputes ranged in the early years about whether and how of even if Jesus was human and divine.

This appears to be the key teaching of the earliest recorded sermons Acts 2; Acts 7. While some early professing Christians stressed the humanity of Jesus over his divinity some held a view termed adoptionism , according to which Jesus, as a man, was adopted by God the Father to bring about salvation , others stressed the divinity of Jesus over his humanity docetism. In what has become known as the Ransom Theory or the Christus Victor tradition, when persons sinned they came under the dominion of sin, death, and Satan.

In order for us to be freed, a ransom had to be paid.

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In a simple version of this account, Satan is the holder of the hostages and he agrees to release sinners if Jesus takes our place. Jesus agrees to this and is killed.


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This position has always been a minority position in Christian thought, but it can be defended against some of the common historical objections. Consider three historically significant objections and replies in rapid succession. Why would God pay Satan a ransom and not just break sinners out of prison? Objection: surely this theory gives too much prominence to Satan. Reply: true, but even if Satan does not exist, might the Ransom Theory still house something intuitively plausible? Practicing wickedness can very much seem like being under the power of some stronger power.

Objection: alright, let Satan be a metaphor. Why pay a metaphor a ransom? How might Jesus overcome death through a satisfaction of some kind for divine justice? One of the main ideas here will take centuries to refine, but the root theme is that Jesus died in our place. By his dying, he frees us from death.

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In a related strand in this view of redemption, Jesus frees us from sin through love and regeneration. Ignatius writes:. Who is equal to the telling of the greatness of His beauty?

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The height to which love lifts us in unutterable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love endures all things, is long-suffering in everything.

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There is nothing vulgar in love, nothing haughty. Love makes no schism; love does not quarrel; love does everything in unity. In love we are the elect of God perfected; without love nothing is pleasing to God. In love did the Master take hold of us. For the sake of the love which he had for us did Jesus Christ our Lord, by the will of God, give His blood for us, His flesh for our flesh, and His life for our lives.

Ignatius On this view, Jesus in some sense transforms the single life of his followers through forgiveness leading to a kind of regeneration and adoption:. It has been said that history is written by the victors, and if there is truth to that, we should be cautious in accepting an official history that makes the transition from the post-Apostolic age to the Creedal era as too smooth.

Some early Christians described the Apostolic age as one of purity, with errors and disagreements only emerging later. Tertullian argued in a clever analogy that it made no sense for a forgery to exist prior to that which is authentic. But many scholars Christian and non-Christian opt for a different image than forgery and authenticity, and refer instead to a kind of trajectory, or a movement from a diverse beginning with many sources in dispute and moving not to some perfect unity, but to distinctive Christian alternatives see Dunn for an excellent overview.

Still, while controversial today, what emerged as a Christian consensus was its distinction from forms of Gnosticism, even those forms of Gnosticism which were in Christian terms affirming Jesus as savior delivering us from evil. On this view, the material world is itself base, perhaps even evil, and we are trapped in our material bodies, requiring liberation. For Gnostics with a Christian orientation, Jesus was sent by the God beyond the god of this world, to give us the sacred knowledge or gnosis that will lead us to enlightenment and out of the entrapment of this world.

In its common form, Jesus is not fully incarnate as human, but seems human and has been sent to out-wit the evil powers of this world and lead us heaven-ward.

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Against this, Polemicists like the Christian theologian Iranaeus argued forcefully that New Testament requires Christians fully recognize the reality of the incarnation. Note especially the humanity of Jesus in the crucifixion narrative of John Moreover, Iranaeus and other Christian polemicists repudiated the idea that the material, created order was not good.

While Jesus and his disciples were all Jewish, there are hints in the New Testament that the Jews who reject Jesus are no longer blessed by God. In John , Jesus addresses Jews who reject him and are he believes seeking to kill him. If many, but not all Jews knew of these prophecies, why did they not recognize the Lordship of Christ and become Christians see Bickerman and Ferguson ? Sadly, Jews and Jewish and Gentile Christians drifted apart and the grounds for the long legacy of persecutions of the Jews was begun in the post-Apostolic age. The word monos is the Greek word for one or alone.

Monasticism began in the East and spread throughout Europe and saved European civilization. The practice of leaving the ambitions of daily life and retreating to the solitude of the desert was seen throughout Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, St. John the Baptist Mark an early example. The father of Christian monasticism was St. Antony of the Desert , the first of the Desert Fathers. Antony of Egypt took to heart the words of Christ to the rich young man, " Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" Matthew He headed across the Nile to a mountain near Pispir to live a life of solitude, prayer, and poverty.

Soon many gathered around him to imitate his life, living as hermits in nearby caves in the mountain, and in he emerged from solitude to teach his followers the way of the ascetic.

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He then moved further into the desert by Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea, where a second group of hermits gathered and later formed a monastery. He lived there for 45 years until his death in Maron , a contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, was a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch for the Orontes River to lead a life of holiness and prayer. As he was given the gift of healing, his life of solitude was short-lived, and soon he had many followers that adopted his monastic way.

Following the death of St. Maron in , his disciples built a monastery in his memory, which would form the nucleus of the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon. The fall of the Roman Empire to the barbarian invasions left European civilization in disarray, for the social structure under one ruler in Rome was destroyed. The preservation of culture and the conversion of the barbarians to Christianity was left to an unlikely group: the monastics of Europe.

Their missionary efforts converted one tribe after another, so that eventually all of Europe was united in the worship of the one Christian God. Patrick as Apostle to Ireland founded the monastery of Armagh in and other monasteries throughout Ireland. As the social unit in Ireland and much of Europe at the time was the tribe in the countryside, the monastery was the center of Church life and learning.

The Irish monks that followed him converted much of northern Europe. The lasting legacy of the Irish monks has been the present-day form of confession.