Ignatius is an early Apostolic Father. He was eventually martyred during the reign of Trajan (98–117 AD) and interacted with another Apostolic Father, Polycarp. Unfortunately, we only have a small collection of his final letters, most likely written during his final couple of weeks pending martyrdom in Rome (Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 166). We currently have seven letters written to churches, Bishops of specific churches, and individuals. They are written To the Ephesians, To the Magnesians, To the Trallians, To the Romans, To the Philadelphians, To the Smyrnaeans, and To Polycarp.
Over the course of church history, there have been three different textual recensions of these letters. The first recension (i.e. the long recension) involves the original letters, though expanded, and an additional six spurious letters from the fourth century. The second recension (i.e. the short recension) is in Syriac and abridges the letters to Ephesians, Romans, and Polycarp. The third recension (i.e. the middle recension), known to Eusebius, preserves what we currently have today in most Apostolic Father collections. (All material taken from Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 171).
The following is a non-scholastic development of Ignatian Christology. It is brief, over-simplified, and under-developed, but nonetheless, provides a small glimpse into early Christological formation. The systematic framework I provide are deductive titles and highlight Christological relationships with other themes. Ignatius responds to docetism (i.e. Jesus had no human form and his sufferings and death appeared to be real, but not truly experienced) and provides the seminal language and ideas of early church Christological creeds.
Christology and Theology
Ignatius repeats a frequent theme, possibly anticipating later economic Trinitarian discussions. The relationship of Jesus to the father is one of subordination. Jesus has done nothing without the Father (Ign.Mag 7.1). The submission, obedience, and subjection of Jesus is expressed to the Father as a framework for how church leaders and members are to relate (Ign.Mag 7.1, 13.2).
Christ’s relation to the Father is also one of order and procession. Jesus is said to “come forth from one Father” (Ign.Mag 7.2).
Christology and Union
Ignatius has multiple expressions signifying the “Union with Christ” theme. In Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, union has various connotations. Death and perfection seem to be related and are accomplished ἐν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ (Ign.Eph 3.1). Moreover, true discipleship appears to begin with death. Abiding in Christ is both a spiritual and physical reality (Ign.Eph 11.3).
Eschatological warnings call the hearer to be reverent and fear the patience of God. Life, however, is given to those found ἐν Χριστῷ (Ign.Eph 11.1).
With regards to ethics and salvific assurance, union with Christ enables you “to reach God” (Ign.Mag 1.3). Moreover, this assurance is based upon a condition of patiently enduring “all the abuse of the ruler of this age.”
Christology and Temple
Temple and Cultic themes sometimes are similar to Union themes. When there is similarity, the roles involved are switched. Union will involve the person being joined into or together with Christ. Temple themes are reversed. God makes his dwelling in or with the person (cf. Ign.Eph 15.3).
Rich Trinitarian symbolism is erected in the mind of hearer as Ignatius constructs the Temple (Ign.Eph 9.1). Appositional phrases further describe the hearer. They are stones of a temple, which the Father prepared beforehand. The “crane” of Christ then hoists us, as stones, up to the heights. A “crane” is a wooden mast upheld by rope so as to move heavy objects with a pulley system. This symbolic crane is the Cross (ὅς ἐστιν σταυρός). The rope is then symbolic of the Holy Spirit that moves us to God through the expression of faith on the path of love. Part II of this series will include further exegetical analysis of this text.
Cultic and ecclesiological concerns merge when addressing church unity. Ignatius implores the people to do nothing outside of the bishop and the presbyters. The imagery of “running together” towards a goal connects these concerns. People are to run to “one temple”, “one altar”, and to “one Jesus” (Ign.Mag 7.2). An adverb (ὡς) is prior to “one temple” and “one alter” but not to “one Jesus Christ”. My hypothesis would have these two cultic expressions as appositional titles for Jesus.
Christology and Ecclesiology
Ecclesiological descriptions center upon a single bishop, a council of presbyters, and deacons (Ign.Eph 2.1; 3.1–2; 4.1; Ign.Mag 6.1). However, the exalted position of Christ is matched with the Bishop. The mind of Christ is the mind of the Father, “Just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are in the mind of Christ” (Ign.Eph 3.2). Harmony and subjection with bishops sanctifies you (Ign.Eph 2.2), demonstrates personal harmony with Jesus (Ign.Eph 4.1), and uniting yourself with you your bishop so as to do nothing outside of him mirrors how Christ is united with the Father (Ign.Eph 5.1). The bishop is to be regarded as the Lord himself (Ign.Eph 6.1). Obedience to the bishop and the council of presbyters is a result gathering together in one faith and Jesus (Ign.Eph 20.2).
The subordination of Jesus to the Father provides an example to the parishioner as he relates to his bishop. He must not do anything “without the bishop and presbyters” (Ign.Mag 7.1). Again the parishioner accomplishes unity, physical and spiritual, when they model the subjection of Jesus in the flesh to the Father (Ign.Mag 13.2).
Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 67.